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New York Pushes to Get Fired Workers Vaccinated, Rehired 

New York City is making a push to give city workers fired earlier this year for not getting the COVID-19 vaccine a chance to get their old jobs back — if they get fully vaccinated.

In February, Mayor Eric Adams fired more than 1,400 workers who failed to comply with the vaccine mandate put in place by his predecessor, Bill de Blasio.

Just short of 600 unvaccinated non-Department of Education workers are receiving a letter with details, and DOE employees are expected to receive a letter later in the summer, a city spokesperson said, adding that 97% of workers are vaccinated and that the goal has always been “vaccination rather than termination.”

The development was first reported by the New York Post.

It wasn’t clear how many workers would be affected and a timeline for returning to work was not disclosed.

The mandate required vaccinations as a workplace safety rule. In March, Adams was the target of criticism for exempting athletes and performers not based in New York City from the city’s vaccine mandate, while keeping the rule in place for private and public workers. 

Posted by Ukrap on

Франція: президентська коаліція на виборах втратила більшість у парламенті

Альянс прихильників президента Франції Емманюеля Макрона і у першому турі мінімально випередив суперників

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Спецпредставник ЄС: винуватці воєнних злочинів в Україні мають бути покарані

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Зеленський не виключає посилення «активності» РФ на новому тижні через відповідь ЄС про кандидатство України

Президент назвав тиждень, що наступає, – «історичним», і одним із найважливіших за весь час від 1991 року

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Americans Celebrate Father’s Day  

Sunday is Father’s Day in the United States. The holiday is observed every year on the third Sunday of June.

The day is an occasion for families to celebrate fathers. Many families shower them with gifts, while restaurants are full of families taking fathers out for a meal.

According to History.com, the first Father’s Day was observed on July 5, 1908, when a West Virginia church held a service in memory of 362 men who had died in December in explosions at the Fairmont Coal Company mines in Monongah. However, this was a one-time event and not an annual affair.

The following year, History reports, Sonora Smart Dodd, a woman who lived in Spokane, Washington, and who was one of six children raised by her father, a widower, began canvassing her community for support for the annual observance of Father’s Day. She was successful and in 1910, Washington state celebrated the first statewide observance of Father’s Day in the country.

The observance of Father’s Day spread slowly across the nation. but now, History says, Americans spend more than $1 billion each year on Father’s Day gifts.

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Spain, Germany Battle Wildfires Amid Unusual Heat Wave 

Firefighters in Spain and Germany struggled to contain wildfires on Sunday amid an unusual heat wave in Western Europe for this time of year.

The worst damage in Spain has been in the northwest province of Zamora where over 25,000 hectares (61,000 acres) have been consumed, regional authorities said, while German officials said that residents of three villages near Berlin were ordered to leave their homes because of an approaching wildfire Sunday.

Spanish authorities said that after three days of high temperatures, high winds and low humidity, some respite came with dropping temperatures Sunday morning. That allowed for about 650 firefighters supported by water-dumping aircraft to establish a perimeter around the fire that started in Zamora’s Sierra de la Culebra. Authorities warned there was still danger that an unfavorable shift in weather could revive the blaze that caused the evacuation of 18 villages.

Spain has been on alert for an outbreak of intense wildfires as the country swelters under record temperatures at many points in the country for June. Experts link the abnormally hot period for Europe to climate change. Thermometers have risen above 40 C (104 F) in many Spanish cities throughout the week — temperatures usually expected in August.

A lack of rainfall this year combined with gusting winds have produced the conditions for the fires.

Authorities said that gusting winds of up 70 kph (43 mph) that changed course erratically, combined with temperatures near 40 C, made it very tough for crews.

“The fire was able to cross a reservoir some 500 meters wide and reach the other side, to give you an idea of the difficulties we faced,” Juan Suárez-Quiñones, an official for Castilla y León region, told Spanish state television TVE.

The fire in Zamora was started by a strike from an electrical storm on Wednesday, authorities said. The spreading fire caused the high-speed train service from Madrid to Spain’s northwest to be cut on Saturday. It was reestablished on Sunday morning.

Military firefighting units have been deployed in Zamora, Navarra and Lleida.

There have been no reports of lives lost, but the flames reached the outskirts of some villages both in Zamora and in Navarra. Videos shot by passengers in cars showed flames licking the sides of roads. In other villages, residents looked on in despair as black plumes rose from nearby hills.

In central-north Navarra, authorities have evacuated some 15 small villages as a precaution, as the high temperatures in the area are not expected to drop until Wednesday.

They also asked farmers to stop using heavy machinery that could unintentionally spark a fire.

“The situation remains delicate. We have various active fires due to the extremely high temperatures and high winds,” Navarra regional vice-president Javier Remírez told TVE.

Remírez said that some villages had seen some buildings damaged on their outskirts.

Some wild animals had to be evacuated from an animal park in Navarra and taken to a bull ring for safe keeping, authorities said.

Wildfires were also active in three parts of northeast Catalonia: in Lleida, in Tarragona and in a nature park in Garaf, just south of Barcelona.

Firefighters said that 2,700 hectares (6,600 acres) were scorched in Lleida. They added that they have responded to over 200 different wildfires just in Catalonia over the past week.

In Germany, strong winds have been fanning the blaze about 50 kilometers (31 miles) southwest of Berlin, prompting officials to declare an emergency Saturday.

Villagers in Frohnsdorf, Tiefenbrunnen and Klausdorf were told to immediately seek shelter at a community center in the nearby town of Treuenbrietzen.

“This is not a drill,” town officials tweeted.

Germany has seen numerous wildfires in recent days following a period of intense heat and little rain.

The country’s national weather agency said the mercury topped 38 C (100.4 F) at some measuring station in the east Sunday.

Thunderstorms were forecast to bring cooler weather in from the west from the evening onward.

Posted by Ukrap on

Патріарх РПЦ Кирило: «Наші хлопці захищають Росію на полі бою»

Раніше цього тижня Велика Британія внесла Московського патріарха Кирила до списку санкцій

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Верховна Рада ухвалила вихід України з трьох угод, які діяли в рамках СНД

Крім того, сьогодні Рада припинила дію угоди між Україною та Росією про науково-технічне співробітництво від 1996 року

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French Voters Cast Ballots in Legislative Runoff   

France voted Sunday in the second-round runoff of legislative elections that saw a new left-wing alliance threatening President Emmanuel Macron’s majority in the National Assembly, the lower house of the country’s Parliament.

Voters trickled out of Neuilly Plaisance’s city hall, shopping carts in tow. After casting their ballots, their next stops were the bakery and Sunday market to finish their errands.

Gregory, an electrician in this eastern Paris suburb, had cast his ballot for France’s new leftist coalition, known as NUPES. He said French President Emmanuel Macron is breaking everything the country has worked for when it comes to social and environmental issues.

Pre-vote polls suggested Macron’s centrist alliance, Ensemble, or Together, would earn the largest share of votes — but not necessarily a ruling majority. The NUPES was hoping for an upset victory that would force Macron to pick its leader, far-left politician Jean-Luc Melenchon, as prime minister.

Michelle, another Neuilly Plaisance voter, said she believes that scenario would be a disaster. Certainly not the NUPES, she said. If they win, France will be in a mess.

Retiree Raymond offered a similar reaction. He said he doubts the feasibility of programs pushed by the leftist coalition. “Where’s the money to pay for them?” he asked.

Macron won a second term against his far-right rival Marine Le Pen just two months ago. But the abstention rate was high, and many French are underwhelmed by their president. Some criticized Macron for not campaigning enough for this crucial parliamentary vote, where this time his main rival was the far left.

These elections for the powerful National Assembly, or lower house of Parliament, will be critical in determining whether Macron can push through fiscal and retirement reforms that mark his second term agenda. The NUPES coalition has vowed to block them and enact tougher environmental policies.

Like the April presidential elections, these legislative elections have also been marked by high voter abstention.


Posted by Ukrap on

У Києві з 20 червня відновлюється автомобільний рух мостами Метро та Патона – КМДА

Після російського вторгнення в Україну столична влада обмежила рух через Дніпро, зокрема деякими мостами, що сполучають лівий і правий береги, з міркувань безпеки

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US Observes Juneteenth National Holiday

Sam Roberts and his family are planning for Juneteenth, the newest U.S. holiday commemorating the 1865 emancipation of Black enslaved people at the end of the Civil War.

On Sunday, the Roberts family and other Americans will attend celebrations and observances. It’s part of a growing national recognition of a pivotal moment in U.S. history that’s been a part of the fabric of Black culture for generations.

“Juneteenth is our Freedom Day and African American communities have been celebrating June 19th for a long time,” said Roberts, a father of two from Washington, D.C. It’s the second national observance of the holiday since Congress authorized it and U.S. President Joe Biden signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act into law last year.

“While July 4th is the celebration of freedom for the United States, Juneteenth is a celebration of freedom for African Americans after the Civil War,” said Jesse Holland, an author and Black historian.

The push for a Juneteenth federal holiday came amid the popularity of the Black Lives Matter movement and a year after nationwide protests against racism and police brutality. It followed the murder of African-American George Floyd by a white Minneapolis police officer in 2020. Since then, the annual celebration has taken on a new meaning for some in the Black community.

“Juneteenth reminds Black Americans we still face the challenges of hate and discrimination our ancestors endured,” Roberts said. “We have to redouble our quest for equality.”

Some historians believe greater awareness of Juneteenth will encourage forward leaning conversations among Americans about race relations and the legacies of slavery.

A national public opinion survey suggests most Americans believe Black people today have been affected by the history of slavery and that the federal government has a responsibility to address those effects, according to the poll by the Gallup Center on Black Voices.

Additionally, the poll found Americans who think the government is responsible generally believe all Black Americans, rather than just those descended from slaves, should benefit from programs to address the effects of slavery.

“Not every African American in the United States are descendants of slaves, but for the large majority of us who are, Juneteenth is the time for us to take stock of who we are today, where we came from and the sacrifices our ancestors went through before and since the Civil War,” Holland told VOA.

Freedom declarations

U.S. President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, a declaration following the end of the Civil War that legally freed more than three million enslaved Blacks in Confederate States. But not all slaves were free because the proclamation could not be implemented in parts of the southern United States.

To enforce the proclamation, Union Army Major General Gordon Granger marched into Galveston, Texas, on June 19, 1865, to issue the “General Order Number 3,” which ended the enslavement of Blacks in Texas. The mandate freed an estimated 250,000 slaves two-and-half years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed.

“White Texans knew the Civil War was [over] and slavery was banned, but they didn’t tell their slaves the war was over for years [in order] to continue to get free labor out of them,” said Holland. “Juneteenth is when the lie ended and federal forces showed up to enforce the new federal law saying slavery was illegal in the United States.”

While Juneteenth is celebrated as the end of slavery, the practice of involuntary servitude continued briefly in the states of Delaware and Kentucky. On December 6, 1865, ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution abolished slavery in the United States.

Juneteenth awareness

The first events commemorating Juneteenth date to 1866, when former slaves celebrated their new freedom with prayer, feasting, song, and dance. The anniversary saw a decline in popularity in the 1950’s and 60’s as Black Americans focused on the civil rights movement and ending racial discrimination. Juneteenth saw a revival in the 1980’s when Texas became the first state to declare the date a state holiday. Other communities across the U.S. slowly began to adopt the annual observance as a public holiday.

Much of the success in galvanizing support for a national holiday is credited to African American activist Opal Lee, known as “the grandmother of Juneteenth.” As a child, Lee witnessed a group of 500 white supremacists vandalize and burn her family’s home to the ground. The life-changing moment led her to a life of teaching and activism.

In 2016, at age 89, she began a walking campaign, traveling hundreds of kilometers from her hometown of Fort Worth, Texas, to Washington, D.C., to press for a Juneteenth federal holiday. At 95, Lee is delighted Juneteenth is gaining national attention. She will march again Sunday to celebrate the holiday.

“It’s important people recognize Juneteenth,” Lee said in an interview with D Magazine last month. “It is not a Black thing, it’s not just a Texas thing, but it’s about freedom for everybody.”

Today’s Juneteenth celebrations often feature music festivals, parades or a march. The observances also focus on teachings about African American heritage, political participation, and economic empowerment.

“On the 19th we gather for cookouts, dance, and share stories of the Black experience,” Roberts told VOA. His family has attended Juneteenth festivities for decades. “This year we have two days of events on Sunday and Monday, the day the federal holiday falls on,” he said. The holiday has become a summertime ritual for the Roberts and one of a few holidays they observe.

In Utah, Juneteenth is being designated as a state holiday for the first time after lawmakers approved a bill earlier this year. “I am so thrilled to see us, as a state, embrace this holiday,” said Utah State Legislator Sandra Hollins. “For me it means a lot. It means my culture mattered and it means that we get to celebrate a holiday that has been overlooked in this state.” Several festivities will take place in the capital, Salt Lake City.

Nearly all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia now observe Juneteenth. Historian Holland believes it’s a clear sign of national recognition and acceptance.

“Juneteenth is American history and everyone should be able to celebrate it, including people of all races, colors and creeds.”

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For Families Deeply Divided, a Summer of Hot Buttons Begins

Kristia Leyendecker has navigated a range of opposing views from her two siblings and other loved ones since 2016, when Donald Trump’s election put a sharp, painful point on their political divisions as she drifted from the Republican Party of today and they didn’t. 

Then came the pandemic, the chaotic 2020 election and more conflict over masks and vaccinations. Yet she hung in there to keep relationships intact. That all changed in February 2021 during the devastating freeze in the Dallas area where they all live, she with her husband and two of their three children. Leyendecker’s middle child began a gender transition, and Leyendecker’s brother, his wife and her sister cut off contact with her family. Their mother was caught in the middle. 

“I was devastated. If you had told me 10 years ago, even five years ago, that I would now be estranged from my family, I would have told you you were lying. We were a very close family. We did all holidays together. I’ve been through all of the stages of grief multiple times,” says the 49-year-old Leyendecker, a high school teacher. 

Since, there have been no family picnics or group vacations. There were no mass gatherings for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Heading into summer, nothing has changed. 

For families fractured along red house-blue house lines, summer’s slate of reunions, trips and weddings poses another exhausting round of tension at a time of heavy fatigue. Pandemic restrictions have melted away but gun control, the fight for reproductive rights, the Jan. 6 insurrection hearings, who’s to blame for soaring inflation and a range of other issues continue to simmer. 

Sarah Stewart Holland and Beth Silvers, co-hosts of the popular Pantsuit Politics podcast, have been hosting small group conversations with listeners about family, friendships, church, community, work and partners as they’ve launched their second book, “Now What? How to Move Forward When We’re Divided (About Basically Everything).” 

What they’ve heard is relatively consistent. 

“Everyone is still really hurt by some of the fallout in their relationships over COVID,” Stewart Holland says. “People are still brokenhearted about some friendships that fell apart, partnerships that are now strained, family relationships that are estranged. As people start to come back together again, that pain is right on the surface, about the last fight or the last disagreement or the last blowup.” 

She called this moment in a nation still greatly polarized as a “bingo card of political conflict for certain families right now.” 

Reda Hicks, 41, was born and raised in Odessa, the epicenter of the West Texas oil industry. Her family is large, conservative and deeply evangelical. She’s the oldest of four siblings and the senior of 24 first cousins. Her move to Austin for college was an eye-opener. Her move to ultra-progressive Berkeley, California, for law school was an even bigger one. 

She’s been in Houston since 2005 and has watched friction among friends and family from her two very different worlds devolve on her social media feeds, emboldened by the distance the internet affords. 

“There’s been a horrific caricaturing on both ends of that spectrum. Like, I'm going to talk to you like you are the caricature in my mind of a hippie' orI’m going to talk to you like you’re the caricature in my mind of a roughneck,’ which means you’re an idiot either way and you have no idea what you’re talking about,” says Hicks, a business consultant and the mother of two young children. 

“It all feels so personal now.” 

Immigration and border security pop up regularly. So does abortion and access to health care for women. Religion, particularly the separation of church and state, is a third hot button. And there’s gun reform in light of the recent mass school shooting in Uvalde at home in Texas and other massacres. She has relatives — including her retired military and conservative husband — who own and carry guns. 

In offline life, Hicks’ family interactions can be tense but do remain civil, with regular get-togethers that include a recent group weekend at her second home in the Pineywoods of East Texas. 

She has never considered a transition to no contact with conservative loved ones. With a brother living just across the street, that would be difficult to pull off. As a couple, Hicks and her husband have made a conscious decision to openly discuss their opposing views in the presence of their children, ages 11 and 5. 

It’s a humbling of sorts, making space for them to agree to disagree. “And we disagree a lot. But our ground rules are no name calling. If something gets extra heated, we take a timeout.” 

No real ground rules are set when it comes to the rest of their families, other than a change of topic when things appear headed for a boil over. 

Daryl Van Tongeren, an associate professor of psychology at Hope College in Holland, Michigan, is out with a new book on the quiet power of restraint, “Humble: Free Yourself from the Traps of a Narcissistic World.” In his eyes, the Hickses have got it right, though cultural humility is a big ask for some divided families. 

“Cultural humility is when we realize that our cultural perspective is not superior, and we demonstrate curiosity to learn from others, seeing the multitude of diverse approaches as a strength,” Van Tongeren says. “This humility does not come at the cost of fighting for the oppressed nor does it require that people shy away from upholding their personal values. But how we engage with people with whom we disagree matters.” 

Van Tongeren is an optimist. “Humility,” he says, “has the potential to change our relationships, our communities and nations. It helps bridge divides, and it centers the humanity of each of us. And it is what we desperately need right now.” 

In the humility camp, he’s not alone. Thomas Plante, who teaches psychology at California’s Santa Clara University, a liberal Jesuit school, urges the same. 

“Having a heated conversation during a picnic or over the barbecue isn’t going to change anyone’s mind. It only creates tensions and hurt feelings as a rule,” Plante says. 

Carla Bevins, an assistant teaching professor of communication at Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School of Business, focuses on interpersonal communication, etiquette and conflict management. The wells of emotional reserves have fallen even lower at the start of summer’s closeness, she says, compared to the stressful family times of, say, Thanksgiving and Christmas. 

“We’re so worn out,” she says. “And so often we’re framing our own response before we really even hear what the other person is trying to say. It needs to be about finding that commonality. Ask yourself, how much energy do I have in a day? And remember, there’s always the option to just not go.” 

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Despite Ongoing Military Action, Ukrainians Continue to Get Married

Despite the ongoing war in Ukraine, couples there continue to get married. For many, the war itself prompted them to officially tie the knot – especially military couples. At least one jewelry store provides military couples with free wedding bands; wedding ceremonies are often held online, at times, literally from the front lines. Anna Kosstutschenko has the story.

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Russian Sanctions Hurting Small Italian Fashion Producers

Fine Italian knitwear packed in boxes addressed to retailers in Moscow, St. Petersburg and Kursk sit stacked in a Lombardy warehouse awaiting dispatch. Although not subject to sanctions to punish Russia for invading Ukraine, the garments are not likely to ship any time soon.

Missing payments from the Russian retailers who ordered the garments are piling up due to restrictions tied to the banking sector, putting pressure on small fashion producers like D. Exterior, a high-end knitwear company with 50 workers in the northern city of Brescia.

“This is very painful. I have 2 million euros worth of merchandise in the warehouse, and if they cannot pay for it, I will be on my knees,” said D. Exterior owner Nadia Zanola, surveying the warehouse for the brand she founded in 1997 from the knitwear company created by her parents in 1952.

Italy is the largest producer of global luxury goods in the world, making 40% of high-end apparel, footwear and accessories. While Russia generates just about 3% of Italian luxury’s 97 billion euros ($101 billion) in annual revenue, it is a significant slice of business for some of the 80,000 small and medium companies that make up the backbone of Italian fashion, according to industry officials.

“We are talking about eliminating 80% to 100% of revenues for these companies,’’ said Fabio Pietrella, president of the Confartigianato fashion craftsman federation.

Districts producing footwear in the Marche and Veneto regions, and knitwear makers in Umbria and Emilia-Romagna have grown particularly reliant on Russia.

“These are districts that connect the supply chain, and if it is interrupted, not only is the company that closes harmed, but an entire system that help make this country an economic powerhouse,’’ Pietrella said.

The Italian fashion world is best known for luxury houses like Gucci, Versace and Armani, which unveil their menswear collections in Milan this week. And some of the biggest names appear on a list compiled by Yale University professor Jeffrey Sonnenberg of major companies doing business in Russia since the war in Ukraine began.

“There are companies that kept selling to Nazi Germany after the outbreak of World War II — we don’t celebrate them for that,” Sonnenberg said, labeling as “greedy” any enterprise that continues to do business in Russia today.

He also underlined that fashion companies don’t have the grounds to make humanitarian appeals to bypass sanctions, voluntary or otherwise, as has been the case with agricultural firms and pharmaceutical companies.

Among those receiving a failing grade from Sonnenberg is Italy’s Benetton, which in a statement condemned the war but said it would continue its commercial activities in Russia, including longstanding commercial and logistic partnerships and a network of stores that sustain 600 families.

French conglomerate LVMH, meanwhile, has temporarily closed 124 stores in Russia, while continuing to pay its 3,500 employees in Russia. The Spanish group Inditex, which owns the fast-fashion chain Zara, also temporarily closed 502 stores in Russia as well as its online sales, accounting for 8.5% of group pre-tax earnings.

Pietrella fears a sort of Russia-phobia is taking hold that is demonizing business owners for trying to keep up ties with a longer-term vision.

He characterized as a “witch-hunt” criticism of some 40 shoe producers from the Marche region on Italy’s Adriatic coast for traveling to Russia for a trade fair during the war.

European Union sanctions against Russia sharpened after the Ukraine invasion, setting a 300-euro wholesale maximum for each item shipped, taking super-luxury items out of circulation but still targeting the upper-middle class or wealthy Russians.

“Without a doubt, we as the fashion federation have expressed our extreme concern over the aggression in Ukraine,’’ Pietrella said. “From an ethical point of view, it is out of discussion. But we have to think of our companies. Ethics are one thing. The market is another. Workers in a company are paid by the market, not by ethics.”

He said the 300-euro limit on sales was a gambit by European politicians that on paper allows trade with Russia despite accompanying bureaucratic and financial hurdles, while also shielding governments from having to provide bailout funds to the industry. He also dismissed as overly facile government suggestions to find alternative markets to Russia.

“If there was another market, we would be there already,’’ Pietrella said.

At D. Exterior, exposure to Russia grew gradually over the years to now represent 35% to 40% of revenue that hit 22 million euros before the pandemic, a stream that is also under new pressure from higher energy and raw material costs.

The company was already delivering its summer collection and taking orders for winter when Russia invaded on Feb. 24. By March, Russian retailers were having trouble making payments.

Not only is Zanola stuck with some 4,000 spring and summer garments that she has little hope of shipping to Russian clients, she said she was contractually required to keep producing the winter orders, risking 100,000 euros in labor and materials costs if those are unable to ship.

Over the years, her Russian clients have proven to be ideal customers, Zanola said. Not only do they pay on time, but they are appreciative of the workmanship in D. Exterior’s knitwear creations.

After working so hard to build up her Russian customer base, she is loathe to give it up and doesn’t see a quick long-term replacement.

“If Russia were Putin, I wouldn’t go there. But since Russia is not only Putin, one hopes that the poor Russians manage to raise themselves up,” she said.

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Бріджит Брінк: Україна не зазнає поразки

«І ми продовжуватимемо підтримувати Україну стільки, скільки потрібно» – посол США в Україні

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Казахстан запропонував ліквідувати ядерну зброю до 2045 року

«Цьогорічний військовий конфлікт на території України, розмови про повернення ядерних озброєнь та взаємні погрози застосування ядерної зброї змушують нас, як ніколи раніше, замислитися… про нагальну необхідність заборони та ліквідації цієї смертоносної зброї»

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Щоб Україна змогла вистояти у війні з РФ: Джонсон пропонує Заходу 4 кроки

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Czech Senate Leader Vows ‘Never Again’ to Communist Totalitarianism

Czech Senate Leader Milos Vystrcil was little known to the world until he led a Czech parliamentary and business delegation to Taiwan in autumn 2020, defying threats of severe retaliation from Beijing. And that is just how his late father would have preferred it.

“He would always insist that we live a normal, average life, not too visible,” Vystrcil told VOA during a visit to Washington last week.

Vystrcil was born in the town of Telc in 1960, 12 years after the Soviet-backed local communist party took control of what was then the Czechoslovak Republic. In order for him and his sister to lead as normal a life as possible, “my father created this sort of bubble,” Vystrcil recalled. “To me, it wasn’t right.”

Not until he was about 15 did his father tell him their family was on the wrong side of the communist revolution because Vystrcil’s grandfather had established a factory that produced agricultural machinery and fire extinguishers. Consequently, theirs was a family of “exploiters” and was closely watched by the nation’s new guardians of supposed equality and egalitarianism.

“My father was afraid all his life that somebody would come and ban us from doing things or they would actually force us to relocate to somewhere else,” he said.

Vystrcil’s father became so pessimistic about life that “he didn’t even want to get married at one point because he knew that his children would have a very difficult life,” he recounted through an interpreter. “My father was afraid that his children would suffer just by being his children.”

On Nov. 17, 1989, everything changed. Or almost everything.

That day marked the beginning of a series of mostly peaceful demonstrations known as the “Velvet Revolution,” culminating 11 days later when the Communist Party announced it was ceding power.

A father’s fear

The 29-year-old Vystrcil started out on a new path — a path his father watched with considerable unease.

“I remember writing an article after 1989. My father read it and he came to me and said: ‘Why are you doing this? What will they say now?’”

The younger Vystrcil forged on and rose from a high school teacher to principal to mayor of the city of Telc, where the family had resided for generations. He went on to become governor of the region.

By the time his father died at age 92 in 2017, Vystrcil had been elected as a federal senator; three years later, he became leader of the Senate.

It was in that capacity that he led a delegation to Taipei in 2020, showing his nation’s support for another victim of communist intimidation, and later invited Taiwan Foreign Minister Joseph Wu to Prague, prompting fierce Chinese threats of retaliation.

But, Vystrcil said in an interview with The Diplomat during his Washington visit, he personally did not feel added pressure from Beijing upon conclusion of the trip, partly because “the entire democratic world had actually stood up for us and stood up behind our mission to Taiwan once we were threatened by the People’s Republic of China.”

“On the other hand, this certainly does not mean that the Chinese have forgotten or will not do anything,” he added.

In the same interview, he stated that being able to “keep our backs straight” and not yield to pressure is a politician’s inherent duty to help build a “strong and proud nation” capable of withstanding challenges.

Asked by VOA whether his father ever overcame his anxiety as he watched his son’s political ascent, Vystrcil shook his head. “To answer your question, I’m afraid he did not manage to let go of his fear, even to the end of his life, he was not able to do it.”

Vystrcil said his father “was always afraid, because [he would say] ‘the more you go up the ladder, the stronger your enemies are, you’re more visible.’ He would always warn me: ‘Be careful.’” Vystrcil’s eyes grew wet as he recalled his father’s warning, and love. But he did not allow himself to dwell on it.

“Now that we have discussed this here together, that’s probably one of the reasons that convinced me that ‘never again’ — we mustn’t ever let it happen again,” he said of his nation’s period of one-party rule.

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NATO Warns of Long Ukraine War as Russian Assaults Follow EU Boost for Kyiv

The head of NATO said Sunday the war in Ukraine could last years and Ukrainian forces faced intensified Russian assaults after the EU executive recommended that Kyiv should be granted the status of a candidate to join the bloc.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg was cited by Germany’s Bild am Sonntag newspaper as saying the supply of state-of-the-art weaponry to Ukrainian troops would increase the chance of liberating the eastern Donbas region from Russian control.

“We must prepare for the fact that it could take years. We must not let up in supporting Ukraine,” he said. “Even if the costs are high, not only for military support, also because of rising energy and food prices.”

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who visited Kyiv on Friday, made similar comments about the need to prepare for a long war in an op-ed for London’s Sunday Times newspaper.

Speaking to reporters on Saturday he stressed the need to avoid “Ukraine fatigue” and with Russian forces “grinding forward inch by inch,” for allies to show the Ukrainians they were there to support them for a long time.

In the op-ed, he said this meant ensuring “Ukraine receives weapons, equipment, ammunition and training more rapidly than the invader.”

“Time is the vital factor,” Johnson said. “Everything will depend on whether Ukraine can strengthen its ability to defend its soil faster than Russia can renew its capacity to attack.”

Ukraine received a significant boost Friday when the European Commission recommended that it be granted EU candidate status — something European Union countries are expected to endorse at a summit this week.

This would put Ukraine on course to realize an aspiration seen as out of reach before Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion, even if actual membership could take years.

On Ukraine’s battlefields Russian attacks intensified.

Sievierodonetsk, a prime target in Moscow’s offensive to seize full control of the eastern region of Luhansk, was again under heavy artillery and rocket fire as Russian forces attacked areas outside the industrial city, the Ukrainian military said.

The Ukrainian armed forces’ general staff admitted its forces had suffered a military setback in the settlement of Metolkine, just to the southeast of Sievierodonetsk.

“As a result of artillery fire and an assault, the enemy has partial success in the village of Metolkine, trying to gain a foothold,” it said in a Facebook post late Saturday.

Serhiy Gaidai, the Ukrainian-appointed governor of Luhansk, referred in a separate online post to “tough battles” in Metolkine.

Russia’s Tass news agency, citing a source working for Russian-backed separatists, said many Ukrainian fighters had surrendered in Metolkine.

To the northwest, several Russian missiles hit a gasworks in Izium district, and Russian rockets rained down on a suburb of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, hitting a municipal building and starting a fire in a block of flats, but causing no casualties, Ukrainian authorities said.

Ukrainian authorities also reported shelling of locations further west in Poltava and Dnipropetrovsk, and on Saturday they said three Russian missiles destroyed a fuel storage depot in the town of Novomoskovsk, wounding 11 people, one critically.

The Ukrainian armed forces’ general staff said Russian troops on a reconnaissance mission near the town of Krasnopillya had been beaten back with heavy casualties Saturday.

Reuters could not independently confirm the battlefield accounts.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, whose defiance has inspired Ukrainians and won him global respect, said in a Telegram post on Saturday he had visited soldiers on the southern front line in the Mykolaiv region, about 550 kilometers south of Kyiv.

“Our brave men and women. Each one of them is working flat out,” he said. “We will definitely hold out! We will definitely win!”

A video showed Zelenskyy in his trademark khaki T-shirt handing out medals and posing for selfies with servicemen.

Zelenskyy’s office said he had also visited National Guard positions in the southern region of Odesa to the west of Mykolaiv. Neither he nor his office said when the trips took place, but he did not deliver his customary nighttime address Saturday.

Zelenskyy has remained mostly in Kyiv since Russia invaded Ukraine, although in recent weeks he has made unannounced visits to Kharkiv, and two eastern cities close to where battles are being fought.

One of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s stated goals when he ordered his troops into Ukraine was to halt the eastward expansion of the NATO military alliance and keep Moscow’s southern neighbor outside of the West’s sphere of influence.

But the war, which has killed thousands of people, turned cities into rubble and sent millions fleeing, has had the opposite effect — convincing Finland and Sweden to seek to join NATO — and helping to pave the way for Ukraine’s EU membership bid. 

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Yellowstone National Park to Partly Reopen After Floods

Yellowstone National Park will partially reopen at 8 a.m. Wednesday, after catastrophic flooding destroyed bridges and roads and drove out thousands of tourists.

The Park Service announced Saturday that visitors will once again be allowed on the park’s southern loop under a temporary license plate system designed to manage the crowds: Those with even-numbered plates and motorcycle groups will be allowed on even-numbered days, and those with odd-numbered or vanity plates on odd-numbered days.

Commercial tours and visitors with proof of overnight reservations at hotels, campgrounds or in the backcountry will be allowed in whatever their plate number.

Visitors had been flocking to Yellowstone during its 150th anniversary celebration. The southern loop provides access to Old Faithful, the rainbow-colored Grand Prismatic Spring, and the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and its majestic waterfall. It can be accessed from the park’s south, east and west entrances.

“It is impossible to reopen only one loop in the summer without implementing some type of system to manage visitation,” Yellowstone Superintendent Cam Sholly said in a news release. “My thanks to our gateway partners and others for helping us work out an acceptable temporary solution for the south loop while we continue our efforts to reopen the north loop.”

The north loop is expected to remain closed through the summer, if not longer. Officials say it could take it could take years and cost more than $1 billion to repair the damage in the environmentally sensitive landscape.