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Recession Is ‘Not Inevitable,’ Biden Says in AP Interview

President Joe Biden told The Associated Press on Thursday that the American people are “really, really down” after a tumultuous two years with the coronavirus pandemic, volatility in the economy and now surging gasoline prices that are slamming family budgets.

He said a recession is not inevitable and bristled at claims by Republican lawmakers that last year’s COVID-19 aid plan was fully to blame for inflation reaching a 40-year high, calling that argument bizarre.

As for the overall American mindset, Biden said, “People are really, really down.”

“They’re really down,” he said. “The need for mental health in America, it has skyrocketed, because people have seen everything upset. Everything they’ve counted on upset. But most of it’s the consequence of what’s happened, what happened as a consequence of the COVID crisis.”

Speaking to the AP in a 30-minute Oval Office interview, Biden addressed the warnings by economists that the United States could be headed for a recession.

“First of all, it’s not inevitable,” he said. “Secondly, we’re in a stronger position than any nation in the world to overcome this inflation.”

As for the causes of inflation, Biden flashed some defensiveness on that count.

“If it’s my fault, why is it the case in every other major industrial country in the world that inflation is higher? You ask yourself that? I’m not being a wise guy,” he said.

The president said he saw reason for optimism with the 3.6% unemployment rate and America’s relative strength in the world.

“Be confident, because I am confident we’re better positioned than any country in the world to own the second quarter of the 21st century,” Biden said. “That’s not hyperbole, that’s a fact.”

Biden’s bleak assessment of the national psyche comes as voters have soured on his job performance and the direction of the country. Only 39% of U.S. adults approve of Biden’s performance as president, according to a May poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Research, dipping from negative ratings a month earlier.

The president outlined some of the hard choices he has faced, saying the U.S. needed to stand up to Russian President Vladimir Putin for invading Ukraine in February even though tough sanctions imposed as a result of that war have helped caused gas prices to surge, creating a political risk for Biden in an election year. He called on oil companies to think of the world’s short-term needs and increase production.

Asked why he ordered the financial penalties against Moscow that have helped disrupt food and energy markets globally, Biden said he made his calculation as commander in chief rather than as a politician thinking about the election.

“I’m the president of the United States,” he said. “It’s what’s best in the country. No kidding. No kidding. So what happens? What happens if the strongest power in NATO, the organizational structure we put together, walked away from Russian aggression?”

Biden talked about the possibility of chaos in Europe if an unimpeded Russia kept moving deeper into the continent, China was emboldened to take over Taiwan and North Korea grew even more aggressive with its nuclear weapon ambitions.

Biden renewed his contention that major oil companies have benefited from higher prices without increasing production as much as they should. He said the companies needed to think of the world in the short term, not just their investors.

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Turkey Deports Thousands to Taliban-Controlled Afghanistan

Turkey is deporting thousands of Afghans despite an international outcry about the dire humanitarian situation in Afghanistan, where the Taliban have been accused of human rights violations.

In January 2022, Turkey was the second country, following Pakistan, to resume direct flights to Afghanistan months after all international flights to the landlocked country were disrupted once the former Afghan government crumbled on August 15.

In the past six months, 79 Turkish chartered deportation flights have landed at Kabul international airport, carrying more than 18,000 Afghans, according to Turkish officials and the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

The Taliban’s seizure of power last August plunged Afghanistan into one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world, prompting the United Nations to launch its largest single-country humanitarian assistance appeal for about $4.4 billion in 2022.

The Taliban acknowledge the humanitarian situation but blame international sanctions as the primary cause of the country’s economic problems.

In the four months following the Taliban’s return to power, nearly 840,000 Afghans crossed international borders without travel documents, almost twice as many as during January-August 2021, according to figures compiled by the IOM.

Turkey is a major transit destination for Afghans who seek migration to Europe. At least 23,000 Afghans sought asylum in Germany last year. Turkey also hosts the largest refugee population in the world, 3.8 million, mostly from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR) said in a report Thursday.

Most Afghans have to cross neighboring Iran to enter Turkey. In 2021, Iran deported 760,000 Afghans.

Refugees blamed for economic problems

The crisis in Ukraine has also forced 145,000 Ukrainians to seek refuge in Turkey.

Amid the large refugee burden, Turkey is also facing severe economic and financial challenges. The Turkish currency, the lira, has lost half of its value in a year and the inflation rate stands at 61%.

“Most Turks, particularly politicians, blame refugees and migrants for the economic problems here,” Sayed Agha Hashemi, a representative of Afghan refugees in Istanbul, told VOA.

A survey by a Turkish research organization in April found that more than 78% of respondents want refugees to be returned to their home countries.

Turkey will hold presidential and parliamentary elections in June 2023, and some politicians have already started blaming refugees for the country’s pressing economic woes.

One right-wing party, the Good Party, has reportedly adopted the slogan, “Victory will come to power; all refugees and illegals will go.”

There are also social media campaigns blaming refugees for stealing jobs and driving up prices.

Stateless

Nearly 10 months since seizing power and declaring Afghanistan an Islamic emirate, the Taliban have failed to establish formal diplomatic relations with any country.

While Ankara has kept its ambassador in Kabul, the Taliban, as the de facto Afghan government, have yet to take charge of Afghanistan’s diplomatic missions in Turkey.

Afghan consular services in Turkey have been disrupted because of a lack of new passports and because the Taliban do not pay the salaries of diplomats appointed by the former Afghan government.

“The embassy and the consulate in Istanbul used to help us in the past, but now we’re officially stateless people and are at the mercy of Turkish authorities,” said Hashemi.

Dost Gul, an Afghan migrant in Istanbul, said he lost his passport last month and cannot obtain a new one. “I’m just waiting for deportation.”

Afghan migrants are sent back to a country where more than 90% of the population suffers from food insecurity and a host of human rights violations.

“We maintain that conditions in Afghanistan right now are not conducive for any type of return,” Safa Msehli, an IOM spokesperson, told VOA.

After Syrians and Venezuelans, Afghans are the third-largest refugee population in the world, with 2.7 million registered in 98 countries, the UNHCR says.

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Кількість підтверджених ООН загиблих і поранених через російську агресію цивільних перевищила 10 тисяч

УВКПЛ ООН зазначає, що реальні цифри можуть бути значно вищими, адже інформація із зон бойових дій надходить із затримкою

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   Building Boats, Building Lives  

“I have to keep the pressure slow and steady, so I don’t mess this up,” said Tykeece Simms, cutting some boards for a doghouse.

Simms is learning woodworking skills as an apprentice in the Alexandria Seaport Foundation’s wooden boatbuilding program in Alexandria. Small groups of apprentices learn the craft at the group’s seaport center, a floating timber chalet on the banks of the Potomac River.

Located outside Washington, the program is designed to help at-risk young adults from 17 to 23 years old gain the skills, confidence and discipline to change their lives for the better.

“The lack of self-esteem and negative self-talk are big problems,” said Victoria Davis, who teaches the apprentices life skills, “so we work on improving their self-image.”

Joining the year-round program was a no-brainer for Simms.

“I kept getting into trouble, and the last time, I was given the choice of going to jail again or going into the apprenticeship program,” he told VOA.

Simms is hopeful his life will turn around.

“Everybody is nice and helping me to become a better person,” he said. “You work but also laugh and have a great time.”

The apprentices are paid during their stay, which averages between six and nine months. If they are homeless, the foundation helps to find them a place to stay.

Many, including Simms, have not graduated from high school. During the program, they study to earn their GED certificate — a high school equivalency credential.

“They face a lot of challenges,” said Gabe Beckerman, who is at the helm of the program as an apprentice program instructor. “Many of them have serious family problems. They may have been stealing things, had drug and alcohol addictions, and are finding it difficult to deal with their emotions.”

Simms said the instructors help in many ways.

“They teach you how to try to control your anger and help you from being depressed,” he said. “They also talk to you about believing in yourself, even though other people have let you down.”

Chris Cease, the other apprentice program instructor, said he understands their struggles.

“I became an apprentice a few years ago when I was 19,” he said. “I was breaking into buildings and getting into fights. The program helped straighten me out and learn how to be an adult.”

Cease helps the apprentices reach their goals.

“I treat them like brothers and sisters and do whatever I can to help them,” he told VOA. “A lot of them don’t have anyone, and I show them that they are not alone.”

For Deion Smalls, 22, who grew up with drug-addicted parents in a poor Washington neighborhood, that means everything.

Smalls arrives early at the center each day.

“Coming here is like a healthy drug and a breath of fresh air,” Smalls said enthusiastically.

“I thought I was nothing before I came here, but everyone showed me I am somebody. I love it here,” he added as he began working on a wooden boat.

Beckerman said building a small boat is just a vehicle to help the apprentices with deeper issues.

“It’s about learning about themselves, and woodworking helps pass the time,” he said.

Jay Creech, a longtime volunteer who teaches the young people how to build the boats, said they get a lot from the experience.

“We give them the tools to make things they’ve never done before and the confidence and satisfaction of accomplishing something,” he said.

Apprentice Zaria Eubanks said the program has helped her to grow.

“It’s way more than about working on the boats or doing little projects,” she said. “It’s also about expressing your opinion, knowing you will not be judged, and not being afraid of what others might think of you.”

Rob Dutton, another boatbuilding volunteer, said, “You’re providing sort of mini-therapy sessions with these young people as you talk to them about themselves as they work on a project. You build trust and security and teach them pride.”

Madison Hoffa, 18, who just joined the program, craves that security. She said she’s been on her own since she was 14 after her mother was put in prison for selling drugs.

“I want to feel safe and comfortable and not worry about if I’m going to eat tomorrow,” she said.

Cease said while most of the apprentices complete the program, 30% do not. “Some find it difficult to adjust to the structure,” he said.

However, Smalls and Eubanks said they are sticking with it.

“I’m going to use my troubles to make myself successful and start a landscaping business,” Smalls said.

Eubanks agreed.

“I am proud of myself, and once I complete my GED, I hope to continue my education by going to college,” she said.

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У Південній бухті Севастополя стоять п’ять великих десантних кораблів – «Крим.Реалії» 

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Зеленський: підвищення цін на газ у Європі – це спроба Росії «вдарити по європейцях»

«Це ще один аргумент на користь того, що Європа вже зараз має переходити до життя без російського газу»

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Harris to Launch Task Force on Online Harassment, Abuse

Vice President Kamala Harris will launch a new task force dedicated to fighting online harassment and abuse, according to senior Biden administration officials.

Although the problem isn’t new, it has taken on new urgency following shooting massacres in Texas and New York that were predated by misogynist and racist commentary on social media and message boards.

The National Security Council is working with the White House Gender Policy Council on the initiative, and Attorney General Merrick Garland and Surgeon General Vivek Murthy were scheduled to attend the first meeting Thursday.

Also present will be Sloane Stephens, a Black U.S. tennis player who has faced a torrent of racist abuse after losing matches.

The task force is intended to develop, over the next 180 days, recommendations for next steps the federal government can take to combat the problem, said the administration officials, who insisted on anonymity to speak before the launch announcement.

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EU Leaders Visit Kyiv Amid Rising Divisions, Tensions

 Thursday’s visit to Ukraine by four European Union leaders comes ahead of a key decision on Kyiv’s EU candidacy, expected next week — and as tensions grow over Europe’s long-term commitment to the war.

Speaking to reporters from Kyiv’s war-ravaged suburb of Bucha, France’s president, Emmanuel Macron, said his visit with the leaders of Germany, Italy and Romania underscored the European Union’s strong political support for Ukraine and its respect for its people’s courage.

Macron dismissed controversy within the EU over his remarks that aggressor Russia should not be humiliated in finding an exit to the conflict. He said France had been by Kyiv’s side from the beginning.

Ukraine has also criticized Macron’s call for a so-called interim “European political community” group for non-EU members.

The Ukraine visit by the four EU leaders comes a day before the bloc’s executive arm is expected to recommend granting Ukraine EU candidacy status. The EU’s 27 members are expected to make a decision during a summit next week.

Even if its candidacy is approved, Ukraine will likely wait years to become an EU member — but Kyiv says the move is symbolically important.

But the outcome is uncertain. Members like Poland and the Baltic states strongly support Ukraine’s candidacy; others like Portugal and Denmark have voiced reservations. The biggest EU countries appeared lukewarm, but during a visit to Moldova Wednesday, Macron seemed to back candidate status.

Tensions with Kyiv have also surfaced over the strength of the EU military, political and financial support for Ukraine, as it battles the Russian invasion.

Meanwhile, European leaders face eroding support at home for the conflict, amid rising prices and supply shortages. A poll by the European Council on Foreign Relations policy institute finds one-third or more of all EU citizens want the war to end as soon as possible.

Macron faces extra pressure, ahead of legislative elections Sunday that may eliminate his majority in France’s lower house.

His far-right rival, Marine Le Pen, accuses Macron of profiting politically from his trip to Ukraine.

Meanwhile, another political rival, Jean-Francois Cope of the center-right, faults Macron for taking his eyes off the elections that may see a far-left win. The house is burning, Cope told French radio, and Macron is looking elsewhere.

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Greek Neo-Nazi Party Leaders Appeal Convictions

The imprisoned leaders of Greece’s once-powerful neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party are seeking to overturn long prison terms in an appeals court trial that began this week in Athens.

Justice officials suggest it is unlikely that the court will show any leniency to the defendants. But while the neo-Nazi grouping, among the most dangerous in Europe, has been dismantled, far-right extremism still stains the birthplace of democracy.

The appeal comes 18 months after Golden Dawn leader Nikos Mihaloliakos and six other senior lawmakers from the party faced sweeping convictions for operating what the Greek Supreme Court then called a criminal organization masquerading as a political organization.

Mihaloliakos and the other convicted lawmakers are serving 13-year jail terms, but the appeals trial now gives them the chance to rechallenge the charges, potentially cutting years off their sentences or even overturning their convictions.

That prospect alone has activists here concerned.

Hundreds of anti-fascist demonstrators spilled onto the streets of Athens this week demanding judges hearing the Golden Dawn appeal to “keep the Nazis in jail,” as they chanted ….

Fascism must be eradicated once and for all from our society, says this demonstrator.

Mihaloliakos did not attend the opening of the appeal, citing health reasons. Several other defendants followed suit, a sign political commentators in Athens said showed Golden Dawn’s waning appeal on Greek society.

On the margins for decades, the group took Greece – and Europe — by storm as a debt crisis and brutal 10-year economic recession gripped the country, enabling it to emerge as a potent political force.

Analysts say that not since the restoration of democracy here, with the collapse of military rule in 1974, had a party as brazenly thuggish or ideologically extreme been catapulted into the country’s Parliament, becoming the third-strongest political grouping, threatening democracy in the birthplace of democracy.

A bloody reign of terror existed in Athens for nearly a decade, with Golden Dawn regularly targeting migrants, trade unionists and left-wing sympathizers.

It took the 2013 assassination of Pavlos Fyssas, an anti-fascist rapper, to trigger national outrage, setting in motion the group’s decline.  

On Wednesday, Fyssa’s grieving mother, Magda Fyssa, was the first to return to the courtroom.  

Conviction, she said, that is all that they deserve.

Since the conviction of Golden Dawn’s leaders, the extremist group has all but dismantled amid defections, feuds and infighting.

Far-right extremism, though, is far from finished here.

Kostas Papadakis, a leading lawyer of the prosecution explains.

He says the trial is important because it comes amid a rise in far-right extremism and soaring numbers of attacks reported against migrants and far-left sympathizers.

Activists and judicial officials expect Golden Dawn’s leaders to receive little if any leniency in their appeal.  

But with a new recession looming, an inflation rate hovering at over 10% and tensions with Turkey stoking nationalist sentiments, analysts fear the conditions are ripe for an extremist upsurge here. 

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Війська РФ завдали по Лисичанську ще один авіаудар, кількість загиблих зросла – Гайдай

Під обстріл сьогодні також потрапила будівля профілакторію. Під завалами можуть бути люди, пошуково-рятувальні роботи тривають

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У Києві почали відновлення 11 житлових будинків, які пошкоджені через російську агресію – Кличко

Загалом у Києві внаслідок російських ракетних обстрілів пошкоджені 636 інфраструктурних об’єктів та житлових будинків.

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Франція, Німеччина, Італія та Румунія підтримують надання Україні статусу кандидата в ЄС – Макрон

Емманюель Макрон заявив про це після зустрічі з президентом України Володимиром Зеленським у Києві

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Witnesses to Testify How Trump Implored Pence to Upend 2020 Election

The panel of lawmakers investigating the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol last year is set Thursday to hear testimony about how former President Donald Trump pressured then-Vice President Mike Pence to thwart Congress from certifying that Democrat Joe Biden had won the presidency.

Pence was presiding over Congress as lawmakers were in the initial stages of the state-by-state count of Electoral College votes to verify Biden’s victory when about 2,000 Trump supporters stormed the Capitol to disrupt the proceeding.

Trump, in private and publicly at a rally near the White House just before Congress convened, had implored Pence to reject the electoral count from states where Biden narrowly won and send the results back to the states where Republican-controlled legislatures could order another election or submit the names of Trump electors to replace those favoring Biden.

But Pence, a Trump loyalist during their four years in the White House, refused, saying his role was limited by the Constitution to simply open the envelopes containing the Electoral College vote counts from each state.

“I had no right to overturn the election,” Pence has since said, even though his role required him to also certify his own defeat to Democrat Kamala Harris, now the U.S. vice president.

With Pence announcing ahead of time that he would not accede to Trump’s demand, some of the rioters at the Capitol chanted “Hang Mike Pence!” as they stormed past security barriers, scuffling with police and ransacking congressional offices. Some erected a gallows on the National Mall in sight of the Capitol.

Republican Representative Liz Cheney, the vocally anti-Trump vice chairperson of the House of Representatives panel investigating the insurrection, said last week that Trump, watching the mayhem unfold on television from the White House, told aides he agreed with the idea that Pence should be hanged.

“Maybe our supporters have the right idea,” he allegedly said. “Mike Pence deserves it.”

Cheney also said, “President Trump believed his supporters at the Capitol … and I quote, ‘Were doing what they should be doing.’”

“This is what he told his staff as they pleaded with him to call off the mob, to instruct his supporters to leave,” Cheney said.

Briefing reporters ahead of Thursday’s hearing, committee staffers said the session will focus in part on how Trump’s pressure campaign put Pence’s life in danger.

“You’ll see new materials that documented that day that documented the vice president where he was, what he was doing,” one committee aide said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Marc Short, who served as Pence’s chief of staff and reportedly alerted the Secret Service to a potential security threat to Pence’s life, will not be testifying live but clips of his videotaped deposition will be aired during Thursday’s hearing, the aide said.

In a video message previewing the public hearing, Cheney referenced a federal judge’s recent ruling that Trump’s arm twisting of Pence likely violated two federal criminal statutes.

In response to the committee’s hearings, Trump issued a 12-page statement on Monday, calling the Jan. 6 investigation an attempt by Democrats to prevent him from running for reelection in 2024.

Democratic Congressman Pete Aguilar of California will lead Thursday’s presentation. He told NBC News that Trump knew violence had erupted at the Capitol when he “tweeted the vice president didn’t have the courage to do what was necessary” to overturn the election result.

 

Aguilar said Trump’s tweet was crucial “because that’s the point at which the president pointed, you know, to the mob and said it’s the vice president’s fault.”

News video that was broadcast shortly after the riot showed the Secret Service moving quickly to evacuate Pence and his family from a ceremonial office to an undisclosed location. Aguilar said Thursday’s hearing will include never-before-seen photos of Pence in the undisclosed location.   

Thursday’s hearing is the third in a series scheduled for this month that lays out how the insurrection occurred and Trump’s role in it by inviting his supporters to come to Washington and “fight like hell” to keep him in office.      

More than 800 of them have been arrested on charges ranging from trespassing and vandalizing the Capitol to attacking police. Some ringleaders have been charged with seditious conspiracy.      

On Monday, the House panel showed videotaped testimony from numerous White House and political aides saying they told Trump on election night to hold off on declaring victory, advice he ignored when he declared victory in the early hours of November 4, 2020.      

Former Attorney General William Barr and numerous aides have told the committee that in the weeks between the election and the insurrection, they told Trump his election fraud claims were baseless and that he had lost the election.       

Barr said in taped testimony aired by the committee that many of Trump’s claims of voting irregularities were “completely bogus and silly.”       

“Obviously, he lost the election,” Barr said. “There was zero base of evidence sufficient to overturn the election.”  

VOA’s Masood Farivar contributed to this report.

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US Sending New $1 Billion Tranche of Weapons to Ukraine

French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi arrived Thursday in Kyiv in a show of support to Ukraine amid its battle to fend off a Russian invasion.

“It’s an important moment,” said Macron. “It’s a message of unity we’re sending to the Ukrainians.”

The trip comes as the European Commission considers whether to recommend Ukraine be granted candidate status for EU membership.

While in Kyiv, Macron, Scholz and Draghi are expected to meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

Military aid

The United States announced Wednesday it is sending $1 billion more in military aid to Ukraine, Washington’s 12th and biggest tranche yet of weaponry and equipment intended to confront Russia’s slow but relentless advance on Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region.

National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters at the White House the aid includes $350 million of equipment coming directly from the U.S. military, including 18 high-powered mobile long-range howitzers, 36,000 rounds of ammunition and 18 tactical vehicles to tow the howitzers, along with additional ammunition and other equipment.

Kirby said the remaining $650 million in aid, including coastal defense systems, radios, night vision devices and other equipment, will be purchased by the Pentagon from weapons manufacturers through a funding mechanism known as the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative.

Kirby said the United States has provided more than $914 million in humanitarian assistance to Ukraine since the beginning of the invasion on Feb. 24, including an additional $225 million announced Wednesday by President Joe Biden. The president said in a statement the new money will fund safe drinking water, critical medical supplies and health care, food, shelter, and cash for families to purchase essential items.

“The bravery, resilience, and determination of the Ukrainian people continues to inspire the world,” Biden said. “And the United States, together with our allies and partners, will not waver in our commitment to the Ukrainian people as they fight for their freedom.”

The aid announcement came as U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin met in Brussels with allied defense ministers from more than 45 countries that have been supplying armaments to Ukraine’s forces. Russia is attempting to take full control of eastern Ukraine after failing earlier in the 3½-month invasion to topple Zelenskyy’s government or capture the capital, Kyiv.

Opening the talks with the Ukraine Defense Contact Group, Austin said Western allies remain “committed to do even more” to help Ukraine defend itself against Russia’s invasion at what he characterized as a “critical moment on the battlefield.”

Austin said Kyiv’s forces have “inspired us all and need us all” to supply more weaponry as battles rage in the Donbas region.

He said Russia is continuing to “indiscriminately bombard Ukraine,” and is a “menace to European security” that continues to draw “global outrage.”

Even before Biden’s announcement of new military assistance, the United States and its allies supporting Ukraine had sent billions of dollars of weaponry and ammunition to assist Ukraine’s fighters.

“We’ve got a lot done,” Austin said, but now need to “deepen our support for Ukraine” to prove to Moscow “that might does not make right.”

“We must intensify our shared commitment to Ukraine’s self-defense, and we must push ourselves even harder to ensure that Ukraine can defend itself, its citizens and its territory,” he said.

U.S. General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, provided a grim assessment of the current battlefield situation on the sidelines of the Brussels conference, telling reporters that the Ukrainian military is suffering as many as 300 casualties a day, including 100 soldiers killed in action and between 100 to 300 wounded.

“For Ukraine, this is an existential threat,” Milley said. “They’re fighting for the very life of their country. So, your ability to endure suffering, your ability to endure casualties is directly proportional to the object to be obtained.”

Ukraine has continued to push for more military aid and to get it to the front lines more quickly, as its forces face daunting odds in the Donbas region.

Representative Adam Smith, chairman of the U.S. House Armed Services Committee, told members of the Defense Writers Group, “We need to be giving more sophisticated systems, particularly when it comes to drones and long-range artillery. I don’t think we have been fast enough to get the Ukrainians the drones we have available.”

He added, “The way the fight is playing out right now, certainly, the Russians have more artillery. The Russians right now have better ISR (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance). They have better drones going out and seeing Ukrainian artillery positions. The Ukrainians don’t have that same visibility.”

Despite Russian claims of targeting and hitting Western weapon deliveries, Smith said, “We are still capable of getting a lot of weapons into Ukraine, and we’re seeing them being used in the battlefield.”

Other U.S. officials also downplayed the Russian assertions.

“We have not seen a lot of evidence of the Russian claims,” a senior U.S. defense official told reporters late Wednesday, speaking on condition of anonymity in order to discuss sensitive details.

But while the official dismissed concerns about recent Russian gains, he expressed confidence that the badly needed assistance would reach Ukraine in time to make “a significant difference.”

“We’re likely to be in this phase for a while. The Russian gains continue to be incremental.”

A virtual meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group last month drew representatives from nearly 50 nations and pledges of new aid packages. Ukrainian officials, who joined the talks in Brussels, continue to urge international partners to send more weapons, especially heavy artillery, to help Ukrainian forces match up against Russia.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters that alliance defense ministers would meet late Wednesday with Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov and get an update on “what Ukraine urgently needs.”

Amid comments by Ukrainian officials that not enough military aid has come and it has not come quickly enough, Stoltenberg said such efforts take time. He said NATO leaders realize the urgency and are working with Ukraine to overcome hurdles.

Russian forces are pushing to gain full control of the eastern industrial city of Sievierodonetsk, located in the Donbas region that Russia has declared to be the main focus of its operation in Ukraine.

National security correspondent Jeff Seldin and White House correspondent Anita Powell contributed to this report. Some material came from Reuters, The Associated Press, and Agence France-Presse.

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«Схеми» показали масштаби, в яких Росія вивозить українське зерно з окупованих територій

Протягом травня Росія могла незаконно вивезти з тимчасово окупованих територій України понад 180 тисяч тонн українського зерна

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Макрон, Шольц, Драгі та Йоганніс прибули до Ірпеня

Іноземну делегацію в Ірпені супроводжує міністр розвитку громад та територій Олексій Чернишов

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Ракетний удар по Сумщині: 4 людини загинули, ще 6 – поранені

Українська влада часто повідомляє про те, що російські війська відкривають вогонь по прикордонній території Сумської області

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2 US Veterans from Alabama Reported Missing in Ukraine 

Two U.S. veterans from Alabama who were in Ukraine assisting in the war against Russia haven’t been heard from in days and are missing, members of the state’s congressional delegation said Wednesday.

Relatives of Andy Tai Ngoc Huynh, 27, of Trinity and Alexander Drueke, 39, of Tuscaloosa have been in contact with both Senate and House offices seeking information about the men’s whereabouts, press aides said.

Rep. Robert Aderholt said Huynh had volunteered to fight with the Ukrainian army against Russia, but relatives haven’t heard from him since June 8, when he was in the Kharkiv region of northeastern Ukraine, which is near the Russian border. Huynh and Drueke were together, an aide to Aderholt said.

“As you can imagine, his loved ones are very concerned about him,” Aderholt said in a statement. “My office has placed inquires with both the United States Department of State and the Federal Bureau of Investigation trying to get any information possible.”

Rep. Terri Sewell said Drueke’s mother reached out to her office earlier this week after she lost contact with her son.

The U.S. State Department said it was looking into reports that Russian or Russian-backed separatist forces in Ukraine had captured at least two American citizens. If confirmed, they would be the first Americans fighting for Ukraine known to have been captured since the war began Feb. 24.

“We are closely monitoring the situation and are in contact with Ukrainian authorities,” the department said in a statement emailed to reporters. It declined further comment, citing privacy considerations.

John Kirby, a national security spokesman at the White House, said Wednesday that the administration wasn’t able to confirm the reports about missing Americans.

“We’ll do the best we can to monitor this and see what we can learn about it,” he said.

However, he reiterated his warnings against Americans going to Ukraine.

“Ukraine is not the place for Americans to be traveling,” he said. “If you feel passionate about supporting Ukraine, there’s any number of ways to do that that that are safer and just as effective.”

A court in Donetsk, under separatist control, sentenced two Britons and a Moroccan man to death last week.

U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger tweeted that the Americans “have enlisted in the Ukrainian army, and thus are afforded legal combatant protections. As such, we expect members of the Legion to be treated in accordance with the Geneva convention.” It was unclear whether Kinzinger, an Illinois Republican, had any further information about the men.

He was commenting on a tweet sent earlier Wednesday by Task Force Baguette, a group of former U.S. and French servicemen, saying that two Americans fighting with them were captured a week ago. The group said Ukrainian intelligence confirmed the information.

Early in the war, Ukraine created the International Legion for foreign citizens who wanted to help defend against the Russian invasion.

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World Refugee Day: Afghan Accountant Teleworking from California

June 20 is World Refugee Day. As part of VOA’s coverage, Genia Dulot spoke with an Afghan accountant who fled the Taliban takeover and took his family to California.
Camera: Genia Dulot

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Biden Celebrates Pride Month Amid Attacks on LGBTQI+ Communities

U.S. President Joe Biden signed an executive order Wednesday aimed at combating controversial LGBTQI+ bills that have been introduced in state legislatures across the country. Biden’s order comes as the administration celebrated Pride Month. White House Bureau Chief Patsy Widakuswara has this report