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У Байдена знову позитивний тест на COVID-19, хоча він почувається добре

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ООН заявляє про готовність направити слідчих на місце, де загинули українські військовополонені

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Не політичний жест, а захист вільного світу: Зеленський про необхідність визнання Росії «державою-терористом»

Posted by Worldkrap on

Iran Arrests Swedish Citizen on Espionage Charges

Iran has arrested a Swedish citizen on espionage charges, the official IRNA news agency reported on Saturday, after a court in Stockholm sentenced a former Iranian official for war crimes earlier this month.

Iran has arrested dozens of foreigners and dual nationals in recent years, mostly on espionage and security-related accusations. Rights groups call that a tactic to win concessions from abroad by inventing charges, which Tehran denies.

“The suspect had been under surveillance by the intelligence ministry during several previous trips to Iran because of (their) suspicious behavior and contacts,” IRNA quoted the Iranian intelligence ministry statement as saying.

It did not give a name or say when the arrest was made but added that the suspect had a history of going to the Palestinian territories, went to non-tourist destinations in Iran, and contacted people, including Europeans, under surveillance.

The intelligence ministry statement accused Sweden of “proxy spying” on behalf of Iran’s archenemy Israel, which it said would draw a “proportional reaction” from Iran.

Sweden’s Foreign Ministry said it was aware of the case.

A spokesperson said the case is that of a Swedish man whom the Foreign Ministry had said in May had been detained in Iran. Tehran did not report that arrest at that time. 

Relations between Sweden and Iran have been difficult since Sweden detained and put on trial a former Iranian official on charges of war crimes for the mass execution and torture of political prisoners at an Iranian prison in the 1980s.

On July 14, a Swedish court sentenced the man, Hamid Noury, to life in prison.

Iran condemned that as politically motivated.

Among other foreigners and dual nationals held in Iran are Ahmad Reza Jalali, a Swedish-Iranian researcher sentenced to death on charges of spying for Israel.

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Biden Tests Positive for COVID-19, Returns to Isolation

President Joe Biden tested positive for COVID-19 again Saturday, slightly more than three days after he was cleared to exit coronavirus isolation, the White House said, in a rare case of “rebound” following treatment with an anti-viral drug.

White House physician Dr. Kevin O’Connor said in a letter that Biden “has experienced no reemergence of symptoms and continues to feel quite well.”

In accordance with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, Biden will reenter isolation for least five days. The agency says most rebound cases remain mild and that severe disease during that period has not been reported.

Word of Biden’s positive test came just two hours after the White House announced a presidential visit to Michigan this coming Tuesday to highlight the passage of a bill to promote domestic high-tech manufacturing. Biden had also been scheduled to visit his home in Wilmington, Delaware, on Sunday morning, where first lady Jill Biden has been staying while the president was positive. Both trips have been canceled as Biden has returned to isolation.

Biden, 79, was treated with the anti-viral drug Paxlovid, and tested negative for the virus on Tuesday and Wednesday. He was then cleared to leave isolation while wearing a mask indoors. His positive tests puts him among the minority of those prescribed the drug to experience a rebound case of the virus.

While Biden was testing negative, he returned to holding in-person indoor events and meetings with staff at the White House and was wearing a mask, in accordance with CDC guidelines. But the president removed his mask indoors when delivering remarks on Thursday and during a meeting with CEOs on the White House complex.

Asked why Biden appeared to be breaching CDC protocols, press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said, “They were socially distanced. They were far enough apart. So we made it safe for them to be together, to be on that stage.”

Regulators are still studying the prevalence and virulence of rebound cases, but the CDC in May warned doctors that it has been reported to occur within two days to eight days after initially testing negative for the virus.

“Limited information currently available from case reports suggests that persons treated with Paxlovid who experience COVID-19 rebound have had mild illness; there are no reports of severe disease,” the agency said at the time.

When Biden was initially released from isolation on Wednesday, O’Connor said the president would “increase his testing cadence” to catch any potential rebound of the virus.

White House COVID-19 coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha told reporters on Monday that “the clinical data suggests that between 5 and 8 percent of people have rebound” after Paxlovid treatment.

Paxlovid has proved to significantly reduce severe disease and death among those most vulnerable to COVID-19. U.S. health officials have encouraged those who test positive to consult their doctors or pharmacists to see if they should be prescribed the treatment, despite the rebound risk.

Biden is fully vaccinated, after getting two doses of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine shortly before taking office, a first booster shot in September and an additional dose March 30.

While patients who have recovered from earlier variants of COVID-19 have tended to have high levels of immunity to future reinfection for 90 days, Jha said that the BA.5 subvariant that infected Biden has proven to be more “immune-evasive.”

“We have seen lots of people get reinfected within 90 days,” he said, adding that officials don’t yet have data on how long those who have recovered from the BA.5 strain have protection from reinfection.

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Війська РФ закріплюються на околиці Семигір’я Донецької області – Генштаб ЗСУ

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Неподалік узбережжя на Одещині знайдено міну, фахівці її знешкодили

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More Americans Struggling to Find Affordable Housing

Danira Ford is a lifelong resident of New Orleans, Louisiana. Like tens of thousands of the city’s inhabitants, she has struggled to find an affordable place to live for her and her five children.

“Affordable housing would bring stability,” she said.

“My kids can’t play sports, be in band or get tutored on their homework because mommy needs to pick up extra shifts to cover rent,” Ford continued. “An affordable home would let them live more like normal children.”

A 2018 report by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) estimated that 80% of New Orleans households pay more for housing than they can afford. The Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center recently estimated that 30,000 families in the city are languishing on a waitlist for an affordable housing voucher from the Housing Authority of New Orleans. By issuing a voucher, the city is agreeing to pay up to a certain amount of the voucher holder’s rent.

But the problem extends far beyond New Orleans. In a May 2022 news release on the Biden Administration’s housing supply action plan the White House said that while estimates vary, financial research company Moody’s Analytics estimates that the shortfall in the housing supply is more than 1.5 million homes nationwide.

In a 2021 white paper “Overcoming the Nation’s Daunting Housing Supply Shortage,” by Moody’s Analytics, co-authored by Jim Parrot, a nonresident fellow at Urban Institute, and Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s, the U.S. has less housing available for rent or sale now than at any point in the last three decades.

As federal, state and local officials search for solutions, an ongoing affordable housing crisis is having real effects on residents.

Ford and her family, for example, have been waiting for an affordable housing voucher for more than a decade. Without it, she has cobbled together only enough money to live in the farther reaches of the metropolis, away from many of its amenities.

“It’s far from my work, it’s far from my kids’ schools, it’s far from grocery stores, it’s far from public transportation, it’s far from friends,” Ford said. “When it’s all you can afford, what choice do you have? But, also, what kind of life is it?”

Getting pushed out

Since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, potential homebuyers and renters across the U.S. have seen real estate prices skyrocket and the supply of available units plummet. According to a Pew Research Center study last year, 85% of Americans said availability of affordable housing was a problem in their community. Forty-nine percent of respondents indicated it was a major problem, up from 39% just three years earlier.

According to HUD, housing becomes a problem when a household spends more than 30% of its income on home-related costs. This is known as “cost burdened,” a designation that applies to nearly 1 in 3 Americans.

Exacerbating the problem, Real Estate brokerage company Redfin found rent has risen sharply over the past two years, as much as 40% in some metro areas, while according to data this year from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, real wages — or the amount workers earn relative to inflation — has actually fallen by 1.2% since the end of 2019.

Workers can no longer afford to purchase or rent homes in the neighborhoods they once could.

“The result is that thousands of residents — mostly people of color — get pushed farther and farther outside of desirable neighborhoods,” said Maxwell Ciardullo, director of policy and communications at the Louisiana Fair Housing Action Center.

Evidence of the trend isn’t hard to find in New Orleans. Just east of the city’s famed French Quarter, the Bywater neighborhood was once considered a dangerous area, a perception that helped keep rents low. Over the past 20 years, however, helped in large part by its faring better than most during Hurricane Katrina, the Bywater has seen one of the area’s most rapid increases in home and rental prices.

“And that’s resulting in a demographic shift,” Ciardullo told VOA. “In the year 2000, the census tract that encompasses most of the Bywater had 74% Black residents. Just 20 years later, that was down to 37%.”

Multifaceted problem

A crisis of this magnitude stems from many causes.

The white paper blames the shortage of affordable housing primarily on the 2008 financial crisis. In the years that followed, a shortage of land, lending, labor and building materials drove up the cost of building new homes. This cut into contractors’ profit margins and reduced their incentive to build.

The coronavirus pandemic exacerbated the problem as more Americans sought larger homes where they could telework and live comfortably during lockdowns.

“In New Orleans, we were certainly experiencing these issues,” Ciardullo said, “but we also had some unique challenges, such as an aged housing stock and a lot of gentrification.”

“You used to be able to buy a home for really cheap,” said Alton Osborne, co-owner of the Bywater Bakery. In the 1990s, he bought a home in the neighborhood that he still owns today.

“They were blighted, but at least they were affordable,” Osborne said. “Nowadays, you have a lot of people who moved here from out of town and bought those homes, rehabilitated them, and now they’re worth a lot more. Is it a good thing? Is it a bad thing? It’s complicated, but what’s certain is a lot of people don’t have enough money to live in this neighborhood anymore.”

Short-term rentals

One of the most high-profile reasons for New Orleans’ lack of affordable housing is the prevalence of short-term rentals, through Airbnb and other services, popular with the throngs of tourists who visit the city.

“In the Bywater, you’ve got entire blocks now taken over by Airbnb,” Osborne said.

According to the Inside Airbnb website, which looks at the rental service’s impact on communities, the city has more than 5,500 short-term rental units on Airbnb alone — dwellings that could otherwise go to local tenants. Renting to tourists at high prices also tends to drive up the rents on other types of units.

It’s simple math, according to Bywater Neighborhood Association President John Guarnieri.

“A landlord can make a ton more money renting short term on something like Airbnb than they can by renting to locals with a long-term lease,” he said. “It’s not even close.”

New Orleans City Council has worked in recent years to combat the problem by passing laws regulating how much of each property can be used as a short-term rental, as well as limiting the number of guests allowed per unit. Additionally, fees from each booking are used to contribute to a citywide affordable housing fund.

“It’s a good and important step,” said Ciardullo, “but enforcement has been severely lacking so far.”

In addition to attempting to regulate short-term rentals, lawmakers across the U.S. have sought to address the affordable housing crisis with proposals as varied as raising the minimum wage, mandating rent control, subsidizing affordable housing and pursuing partnerships with developers.

In New Orleans, the City Council passed a zoning ordinance that allows the construction of larger buildings if a percentage of those units are made available at affordable prices.

Policies like these can take years to bring about tangible results, but several large projects in the Bywater are said to be close to breaking ground. But forcing change in a neighborhood can trigger resistance from existing residents.

“As neighbors, we’ve learned to fight back against so much development,” said Julie Jones, president of the Neighbors First for Bywater organization. “It’s just too much for one neighborhood to be expected to take. We like our Bywater as it feels now.”

Jones is far from alone. As each housing project is announced, more residents seem to worry about its effect.

For example, a plot of land awaiting development into a 90-unit mixed income residential building currently serves as a de facto park for the community. As the project’s groundbreaking nears, neighbors bemoan the eventual loss of this greenspace.

New Orleanian Danira Ford just shakes her head.

“I understand they enjoy that space,” she said, “but for families like mine, affordable housing like this would change our lives. We’re not talking about a park. We’re talking about a home and a new and better life.”

Posted by Ukrap on

Близько 400 військових пройшли навчання для «Армії дронів» – Мінцифри

Наразі військові системно навчаються пілотувати дронами в двох школах – «Дронаріум» та «Боривітер», незабаром до них долучаться ще 10 шкіл для операторів

Posted by Worldkrap on

How Russia Spread a Secret Web of Agents Across Ukraine

When the first armored vehicles of Russia’s invading army reached the heart of Chernobyl nuclear plant on the afternoon of Feb. 24, they encountered a Ukrainian unit charged with defending the notorious facility.

In less than two hours, and without a fight, the 169 members of the Ukrainian National Guard laid down their weapons. Russia had taken Chernobyl, a repository for tonnes of nuclear material and a key staging post on the approach to Kyiv.

The fall of Chernobyl, site of the world’s worst nuclear disaster, stands out as an anomaly in the five-month old war: a successful blitzkrieg operation in a conflict marked elsewhere by a brutal and halting advance by Russian troops and grinding resistance by Ukraine.

Now a Reuters investigation has found that Russia’s success at Chernobyl was no accident, but part of a long-standing Kremlin operation to infiltrate the Ukrainian state with secret agents.

Five people with knowledge of the Kremlin’s preparations said war planners around President Vladimir Putin believed that, aided by these agents, Russia would require only a small military force and a few days to force Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s administration to quit, flee or capitulate.

Through interviews with dozens of officials in Russia and Ukraine and a review of Ukrainian court documents and statements to investigators, related to a probe into the conduct of people who worked at Chernobyl, Reuters has established that this infiltration reached far deeper than has been publicly acknowledged. The officials interviewed include people inside Russia who were briefed on Moscow’s invasion planning and Ukrainian investigators tasked with tracking down spies.

“Apart from the external enemy, we unfortunately have an internal enemy, and this enemy is no less dangerous,” the secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, Oleksiy Danilov, said in an interview.

At the time of the invasion, Danilov said, Russia had agents in the Ukrainian defense, security and law enforcement sectors. He declined to give names but said such traitors needed to be “neutralized” at all costs.

Ukraine’s State Bureau of Investigation is conducting a probe into whether the National Guard acted unlawfully by surrendering its weapons to an enemy, a local official told Reuters. The State Bureau of Investigation didn’t comment. The National Guard defended the actions of its unit at the plant, pointing to the risks of conflict at a nuclear site.

Court documents and testimony, reported here for the first time, reveal the role played by Chernobyl’s head of security, Valentin Viter, who is in detention and is being investigated for absenting himself from his post. An extract from the state register of pre-trial investigations, seen by Reuters, shows Viter is also suspected of treason, an allegation his lawyer says is unfounded. In a statement to investigators, Viter said that on the day of the invasion he spoke by phone with the National Guard unit commander. Viter advised the commander not to endanger his unit, telling him: “Spare your people.”

One source with direct knowledge of the Kremlin’s invasion plans told Reuters that Russian agents were deployed to Chernobyl last year to bribe officials and prepare the ground for a bloodless takeover. Reuters couldn’t independently verify the details of this assertion. However, Ukraine’s State Bureau of Investigation has said it is investigating a former top intelligence official, Andriy Naumov, on suspicion of treason for passing Chernobyl security secrets to a foreign state. A lawyer for Naumov declined to comment.

At a national level, sources with knowledge of the Kremlin’s plans said Moscow was counting on activating sleeper agents inside the Ukrainian security apparatus. The sources confirmed Western intelligence reports that the Kremlin was lining up Oleg Tsaryov, a hotelier, to lead a puppet government in Kyiv. And a former Ukrainian prosecutor general disclosed to Reuters in June that Ukrainian politician Viktor Medvedchuk, a friend of Putin, had an encrypted phone issued by Russia so he could communicate with the Kremlin.

Tsaryov said the Reuters account of how Moscow’s operation overall unfolded “has very little to do with reality.” He did not address his relationship with the Kremlin. A lawyer for Medvedchuk declined to comment. Medvedchuk is in a Ukrainian jail awaiting trial on treason charges that pre-date the Russian invasion.

Though Russia captured Chernobyl, its plan to take power in Kyiv failed. In many cases, the sleeper agents Moscow had installed failed to do their job, according to multiple sources in Russia and Ukraine. Ukraine Security Council Secretary Danilov said the agents and their handlers believed Ukraine was weak, which was “a total misconception.”

People the Kremlin counted on as its proxies in Ukraine overstated their influence in the years leading up to the invasion, said four of the sources with knowledge of the Kremlin’s preparations. The Kremlin relied in its planning on “clowns – they know a little bit, but they always say what the leadership wants to hear because otherwise they won’t get paid,” said one of the four, a person close to the Moscow-backed separatist leadership in eastern Ukraine.

Putin now finds himself in a protracted, full-scale war, fighting for every inch of territory at huge cost.

But the Russian intelligence infiltration did succeed in one way: It has sown mistrust inside Ukraine and laid bare the shortcomings of Ukraine’s near 30,000-strong Security Service of Ukraine, or SBU, which shares a complicated history with Russia, and is now tasked with hunting down traitors and collaborators.

This internal Ukrainian turmoil burst into partial view on July 17. In a video address to the nation, President Zelenskyy suspended SBU head Ivan Bakanov, whom he has known for years, citing the large number of SBU staff suspected of treason. Ukrainian law enforcement sources told Reuters that some SBU staff recounted in conversation with them that they were unable to reach Bakanov for several days after Russia invaded, adding to a sense of chaos in Kyiv. Bakanov didn’t respond to Reuters’ requests for comment.

Zelenskyy also said 651 cases of alleged treason and collaboration have been opened against individuals involved in law enforcement and in the prosecutor’s office. More than 60 officials from the SBU and the prosecutor general’s office are working against Ukraine in Russian-occupied zones, Zelenskyy added.

Asked to comment on Reuters’ findings, the Ukrainian presidential administration, the SBU and the prosecutor general’s office did not respond. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: “All these questions have no relation whatsoever to us, therefore there is nothing for us to comment on here.” The Russian intelligence agency, the FSB, and the defense ministry did not respond to Reuters’ questions.

KGB ties

Moscow’s spy apparatus has been intertwined with Chernobyl for decades. After the 1986 disaster, when a reactor blew up scattering radioactive clouds across Europe, the Soviet KGB stepped in. More than 1,000 KGB staff took part in the clean-up, according to a declassified internal memo to a Ukrainian government minister, dated 1991. Then-KGB boss Viktor Chebrikov ordered his officers to recruit agents among the plant’s staff and instructed that a KGB officer should hold the post of deputy boss of the plant in charge of security, according to another memo – an internal KGB communication from 1986.

Even after Ukraine became independent in 1991, Moscow’s spy chiefs remained powerful there. The first head of Ukraine’s domestic intelligence service was Nikolai Golushko, who started his career in Soviet Russia. Before his appointment he led the Ukraine arm of the Soviet KGB. Golushko kept most of the Soviet-era officers in their jobs, he wrote in a 2012 memoir.

After four months as Ukraine’s spy chief, Golushko moved back to Moscow to rejoin KGB headquarters, and in 1993 became head of Russia’s newly created Federal Counter-Intelligence Service, precursor to today’s FSB.

In Moscow, Golushko received a visit from the deputy head of Ukraine’s State Security Service, Golushko wrote in the memoir. He recalled how Oleg Pugach, the Ukrainian official, asked for Golushko’s help finding fabric to make the uniforms for Ukraine’s intelligence officers. Golushko also wrote that Kyiv, short of its own resources and expertise, signed deals under which the SBU agreed to share intelligence information with Moscow. In exchange, Moscow provided supplies, technology and expert help with investigations. Reuters approached Golushko for comment. A colleague from an intelligence veterans’ group told Reuters Golushko, now 85, was in ill health and could not answer questions. Reuters was unable to reach Pugach and couldn’t independently confirm Golushko’s account.

Intelligence officers working at Chernobyl officially became part of Ukraine’s security apparatus in 1991, but they continued to take orders from Moscow, said the person with direct knowledge of the invasion plan. “In effect, these were FSB employees,” said the person. The SBU did not respond to questions about Chernobyl or historical ties to Russian intelligence.

The Chernobyl nuclear plant is a vast facility. A giant steel structure encases Reactor No. 4, ground zero of the 1986 disaster. The plant lies just 10 kilometers at the closest point from the border with Belarus, in a dense and highly irradiated forest. Russia’s war planners considered control of Chernobyl to be strategically important because it sat on the shortest route for their advance on Kyiv, according to Western military analysts.

The source with direct knowledge of the invasion plan said that in November 2021 Russia started sending undercover intelligence agents to Ukraine, tasked with establishing contacts with officials responsible for securing the Chernobyl power plant. The agents’ goal was to ensure there would be no armed resistance once Russian troops rolled in. The source said Chernobyl also served as a drop-off point for documents from SBU headquarters. In return for payment, Ukrainian officials handed Russian spies information about Ukraine’s military readiness.

Reuters could not independently verify details of the source’s account, and neither Ukraine’s State Bureau of Investigation nor the SBU responded to the news agency’s questions. But a review of Ukrainian testimony and court documents and an interview with a local official show that Kyiv is conducting at least three investigations into the conduct of people who worked at Chernobyl. The investigations have identified at least two people suspected of providing information to Russian agents or otherwise helping them seize the plant, according to these documents.

One of the men suspected by Ukrainian prosecutors and investigators of helping Russian forces is Valentin Viter, a 47-year-old colonel in the SBU. At the time of the Russian invasion, Viter was the deputy general-director of the plant responsible for its physical protection.

In May last year, Viter oversaw a routine training exercise that was meant to simulate an attack by armed saboteurs. Armed members of the National Guard unit that protects Chernobyl took part, and rehearsed repelling the attackers by force. Viter said the exercise was a success, according to a video interview posted shortly afterwards on the plant’s website. He also said he hoped Chernobyl’s security team would “not need to apply the knowledge and skills we acquired in a real-life situation.”

Viter was seconded from the SBU to work at Chernobyl as security chief in mid-2019, according to a statement he gave to investigators. In a further statement, he said that on Feb. 18 this year – six days before the Russian invasion – he went on sick leave with a respiratory problem.

By then, Russia was bolstering its troops in Belarus in preparation for an invasion, U.S. officials said at the time. Satellite images shot by U.S. satellite imagery company Maxar on Feb. 15 showed a military pontoon bridge under construction across the Pripyat River in Belarus, north of the power plant. Ukraine’s police, and the SBU, were on heightened alert in response to the Russian threat, and the national police chief said in a statement at the time that security was reinforced at the Chernobyl plant.

On the morning of the Russian invasion, Feb. 24, Viter said, in a statement to investigators, that he was at his home in Kyiv. He telephoned the head of the Chernobyl National Guard unit, who was at his post. By then, people at the plant knew a column of Russian armored vehicles was heading their way.

Viter, according to his testimony to Ukrainian investigators, told the commander, in Russian: “Spare your people.” Viter had no official authority over the National Guard, and Reuters could not determine whether the commander was heeding Viter’s words when the unit surrendered after discussions with the Russian invaders. A National Guard statement identified the unit commander as Yuriy Pindak.

When the Russian soldiers finally retreated from Chernobyl after a 36-day occupation, they took Pindak and most of his unit away as captives. Ukraine says the guards are being held in Russia or Belarus. Russian officials did not comment on the unit’s whereabouts.

Ukraine’s State Bureau of Investigation is conducting a probe into whether the National Guard broke the law by laying down arms, said Yuriy Fomichev, mayor of the town of Slavutych where most of the Chernobyl workers live. Fomichev said he was not aware of anyone having been charged. The State Bureau of Investigation didn’t respond to Reuters’ questions about the matter.

The National Guard declined to comment on the actions of individual commanders and members of the unit tasked with protecting Chernobyl. “Fighting on the territory of nuclear facilities is prohibited by the Geneva Convention,” it said, adding that this was “one of the reasons” why there was no heavy fighting at the site. It referred questions about any investigation to the Bureau.

Article 56 of an additional protocol to the Geneva Conventions states that nuclear power plants and other dangerous installations should not be attacked.

Viter was arrested in western Ukraine and is now in pre-trial detention there on suspicion of absenting himself from his post. An extract from the court’s register, seen by Reuters, shows that law enforcement agents have initiated a second investigation into Viter for suspected treason by “deliberately assisting the military units of the aggressor country, the Russian Federation, in carrying out subversive activities against Ukraine.” They have yet to uncover evidence tying him to Russian special services.

Viter has said in court statements that he fled Kyiv for the safety of his family two days after Chernobyl was seized but tried to stay in contact with colleagues at the plant.

His lawyer, Oleksandr Kovalenko, said Viter had a legitimate reason for being off work and was unaware that he should stay at Chernobyl. The lawyer said any treason allegation was unfounded and Viter had not been served with a letter of suspicion, a step which usually precedes charges. According to the lawyer, Viter said “Spare your people” to remind the National Guard commander that many people depended on him. Viter did not discuss surrender, Kovalenko said. He added that investigators had not asked Viter about any exchange of documents at Chernobyl.

Cash and emeralds

The extent to which Russia infiltrated Chernobyl has focused Ukrainian authorities’ attention on the SBU, the agency Viter worked for, sources said. In particular, military prosecutors on Viter’s case are interested in his connection to a former Ukrainian official called Andriy Naumov, according to sources with knowledge of the investigation and a transcript of Viter’s questioning seen by Reuters.

Previously an official in the Ukrainian prosecutor’s office, by 2018 Naumov had been appointed head of COTIZ, a state enterprise responsible for estate-management of the radioactive exclusion zone around Chernobyl. A major part of COTIZ’s role was to promote “extreme tourism” in the exclusion zone, but the enterprise also had a role in keeping the site secure, according to its website.

After his stint at Chernobyl, Naumov was made the head of the SBU’s department of internal security, a division that investigates other officers suspected of criminal activity. Last year, the agency said it thwarted an assassination attempt on Naumov by other SBU officers. Naumov was later fired as department chief, according to Ukrainian media outlet Ukrainska Pravda and a law enforcement source.

Naumov vanished shortly before the invasion, a person in law enforcement said. He eventually turned up in Serbia in June. A Serbian police statement issued on June 8 said police and anti-corruption agents had arrested a Ukrainian citizen identified by the initials “A.N.” on the border with North Macedonia. He had been trying to cross into North Macedonia from Serbia. A search of the BMW in which he was a passenger uncovered $124,924 and 607,990 euros in cash, plus two emeralds, the statement said. It said the individual and the unnamed driver of the BMW, who was also detained, were suspected of intending to launder the cash and emeralds, which police believe originated from criminal activities. Volodymyr Tolkach, Ukraine’s ambassador to Serbia, publicly confirmed the arrested man was Naumov.

The State Bureau of Investigation confirmed a local media report that it is conducting a pre-trial investigation into Naumov for state treason. It said it was looking into whether Naumov collected information on the security set-up at Chernobyl while working at the plant and later at the SBU and passed it to a foreign state. The statement did not say what grounds it had for suspecting he passed on secrets or if it had specific evidence linking him to Russia.

On March 31, President Zelenskyy issued a decree stripping Naumov of his brigadier-general rank. The same day, the Ukrainian president announced in an emotional address that Naumov and another SBU general were “traitors” who violated their oath of allegiance to Ukraine. Zelenskyy did not make reference to Chernobyl.

Naumov remains in detention in Serbia and could not be reached for comment. His lawyer in Serbia, Viktor Gostiljac, declined to comment. The SBU did not reply to questions about Naumov.


For Russia’s war planners, seizing Chernobyl was just a stepping stone to the main objective: taking control of the Ukrainian national government in Kyiv. There, too, the Kremlin expected that undercover agents in positions of power would play a crucial part, according to four sources with knowledge of the plan.

Yuriy Lutsenko, who served as Ukraine’s prosecutor general from 2016 until 2019, revealed to Reuters that at the time he left the role “hundreds” of Defense Ministry employees were under surveillance, approved by his office, because they were suspected of ties to the Russian state. Lutsenko said he believed there were similar numbers of suspected spies in other ministries.

Russia’s war planners were also counting on other allies to help in the takeover, five sources said.

One of the most visible loyalists was Viktor Medvedchuk, a leader of Ukraine’s Opposition Platform – For Life party. Putin is god-father to one of Medvedchuk’s children. Since 2014, Medvedchuk has been a vocal opponent of the popular protests that called for closer ties to the European Union.

Medvedchuk was charged with state treason on May 11, 2021. Investigators from the SBU alleged at the time that Medvedchuk passed secret details about Ukrainian military units to Russian officials, and intended to recruit Ukrainian agents and covertly influence Ukrainian politics. The day before the invasion, he left his home in Kyiv and was planning on leaving the country, in violation of the terms of his bail, according to the SBU.

Medvedchuk was detained on April 12, Zelenskyy announced that day. Zelenskyy immediately posted pictures of him handcuffed, in Ukrainian military fatigues and looking bedraggled. Medvedchuk has since been in detention.

Medvedchuk has denied the treason charges, saying they were falsified and part of a political plot against him. Kremlin spokesman Peskov told reporters on April 13 Medvedchuk had no back-channel communication with the Russian leadership.

Lutsenko, the former Ukraine prosecutor general, told Reuters that before the Russian invasion, Medvedchuk used an encrypted telephone that was issued to him by the Kremlin, equipment reserved only for the most senior Russian officials and pro-Russian separatist leaders. Lutsenko said Ukrainian investigators had managed to hack the encrypted phone system, without disclosing what they found.

Medvedchuk’s lawyer, Tetyana Zhukovska, declined to comment until a court has handed down a decision in the case. The Ukrainian prosecutor’s office did not comment.

Another key figure, according to three sources familiar with the Russian plans, was Oleg Tsaryov, a square-jawed 52-year-old former member of Ukraine’s parliament. He was picked by Kremlin invasion planners to lead the new interim government they planned to install, these sources said. Their comments are the first confirmation from within Russia of U.S. intelligence assessments, reported by the Financial Times earlier this year, that Moscow was considering putting Tsaryov in a leadership role in a puppet government in Kyiv.

Tsaryov has been under Ukrainian and U.S. sanctions since 2014, when, after a bid to win election as Ukrainian president collapsed, he headed up a body called “Novorossiya,” or New Russia. The group pushed the idea of turning southeastern Ukraine into a separate pro-Russian statelet. By the start of this year, he was in Russian-annexed Crimea, where he owns two hotels.

In the early hours of Feb. 24, at the start of the invasion, Tsaryov told his more than 200,000 Telegram followers he had crossed into Kyiv-controlled territory. “I’m in Ukraine. Kyiv will be free from fascists.”

But Zelenskyy did not capitulate. Any expectations in Moscow that he would flee Kyiv or negotiate a deal that would cede to Russia’s demands soon evaporated. In the weeks that followed, Ukrainian forces halted Russian troops’ advance on Kyiv.

Tsaryov never made it to the capital. On June 10, he posted an advertisement to his Telegram followers for his seaside hotel in Crimea, where a one-night stay costs 1,500 rubles ($28) per person per night. Tsaryov is now spending his time in Crimea with visits to Moscow, according to his social media posts.

Paranoia and mistrust

Russia’s campaign of infiltration did, however, stir suspicion and mistrust at some levels of the Ukrainian state, which hampered its ability to govern, especially in the first few days after the invasion.

One stark incident that fueled the tensions in Kyiv’s power corridors related to the death in early March of Denys Kirieiev, a former bank executive, several sources said. He was a member of the Ukrainian delegation that took part in short-lived talks with Russian negotiators on the Ukraine-Belarus border, starting on Feb. 28. A photograph showed Kirieiev sitting alongside Ukrainian officials at the negotiating table.

An advisor to the Zelenskyy administration said, in an online interview, that officers from the SBU shot Kirieiev while trying to arrest him as a Russian spy.

But Ukraine’s Military Intelligence Agency said Kirieiev was its employee and intelligence officer, and that he died a hero while conducting an unspecified special assignment defending Ukraine. A source close to the Ukrainian military told Reuters that Kirieiev was indeed a spy working for Ukraine. He had access to the highest levels of the Russian leadership, this source said, and was feeding back valuable information on invasion plans and other matters to his handlers in Kyiv.

Amid the chaos early in the war, Bakanov, then the head of the SBU, left Kyiv for at least three days after the Russian invasion, according to three people in Ukrainian law enforcement. Two of these people said some SBU staff recounted they were unable to reach Bakanov for several days after Russia invaded. In suspending Bakanov on July 17, Zelenskyy cited an article in Ukraine’s Armed Forces statute, under which servicemen can be relieved of their duties for improper conduct leading to casualties or a threat of casualties.

Bakanov and the SBU did not respond to Reuters’ questions.

Zelenskyy, in his speech, stressed the toll Russian infiltration was taking on his embattled country by speaking of the numerous officials who have been accused of betraying Ukraine.

“Such an array of crimes against the foundations of the national security of the state … poses very serious questions to the relevant leaders,” Zelenskyy said.

“Each of these questions will receive a proper answer.”

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Pope Says He’ll Slow Down or Retire

Pope Francis acknowledged Saturday that he can no longer travel like he used to because of his strained knee ligaments, saying his weeklong Canadian pilgrimage was “a bit of a test” that showed he needs to slow down and one day possibly retire.

Speaking to reporters while traveling home from northern Nunavut, the 85-year-old Francis stressed that he hadn’t thought about resigning but said “the door is open” and there was nothing wrong with a pope stepping down.

“It’s not strange. It’s not a catastrophe. You can change the pope,” he said while sitting in an airplane wheelchair during a 45-minute news conference.

Francis said that while he hadn’t considered resigning until now, he realizes he has to at least slow down.

“I think at my age and with these limitations, I have to save (my energy) to be able to serve the church, or on the contrary, think about the possibility of stepping aside,” he said.

Francis was peppered with questions about the future of his pontificate following the first trip in which he used a wheelchair, walker and cane to get around, sharply limiting his program and ability to mingle with crowds.

He strained his right knee ligaments earlier this year, and continuing laser and magnetic therapy forced him to cancel a trip to Africa that was scheduled for the first week of July.

The Canada trip was difficult, and featured several moments when Francis was clearly in pain as he maneuvered getting up and down from chairs.

At the end of his six-day tour, he appeared in good spirits and energetic, despite a long day traveling to the edge of the Arctic on Friday to again apologize to Indigenous peoples for the injustices they suffered in Canada’s church-run residential schools.

Francis ruled out having surgery on his knee, saying it would not necessarily help and noting “there are still traces” from the effects of having undergone more than six hours of anesthesia in July 2021 to remove 33 centimeters of his large intestine.

“I’ll try to continue to do the trips and be close to people because I think it’s a way of servicing, being close. But more than this, I can’t say,” he said Saturday.

In other comments aboard the papal plane, Francis:

Agreed that the attempt to eliminate Indigenous culture in Canada through a church-run residential school system amounted to a cultural “genocide.” Francis said he didn't use the term during his Canada trip because it didn't come to mind. Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission determined in 2015 that the forced removal of Indigenous children from their homes and placement in church-run residential schools to assimilate them into Christian, Canadian constituted a “cultural genocide.” “It’s true I didn’t use the word because it didn’t come to mind, but I described genocide, no?” Francis said. “I apologized, I asked forgiveness for this work, which was genocide.” 
Suggested he was not opposed to a development of Catholic doctrine on the use of contraception. Church teaching prohibits artificial contraception. Francis noted that a Vatican think tank recently published the acts of a congress where a modification to the church’s absolute “no” was discussed. He stressed that doctrine can develop over time and that it was the job of theologians to pursue such developments, with the pope ultimately deciding. Francis noted that church teaching on atomic weapons was modified during his pontificate to consider not only the use but the mere possession of atomic weapons as immoral and to consider the death penalty immoral in all cases. 
Confirmed he hoped to travel to Kazakhstan in mid-September for an interfaith conference where he might meet with Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill, who has justified the war in Ukraine. Francis also said he wants to go to Kyiv, Ukraine's capital, though no trip has yet been confirmed. He said he hoped to reschedule the trip to South Sudan he canceled because of his knee problems. He said the Congo leg of that trip would probably have to be put off until next year because of the rainy season.

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Pakistan Army Chief Reportedly Seeking US Help in Securing Crucial IMF Loan

Pakistan’s military chief has reportedly sought help from the United Sates in securing the early disbursement of an International Monetary Fund loan as the high price of energy imports pushes the cash-strapped South Asian nation to the brink of a payment crisis.

General Qamar Javed Bajwa spoke by phone to Deputy U.S. Secretary of State Wendy Sherman earlier this week and raised the issue, government sources told VOA late Friday on condition of anonymity.

Pakistan last week reached a staff-level agreement with the IMF for the revival of a multibillion-dollar bailout package. However, the deal is subject to approval by the lender’s board, which is due to meet in late August. Islamabad is expected to get about $4.2 billion under the loan program, starting with an initial tranche of about $1.2 billion.

Foreign Ministry spokesperson Asim Iftikhar Ahmad has confirmed the phone contact between Bajwa and Sherman but did not share details.

“Well, I understand conversation has taken place, but at this stage, I am not in direct knowledge of the content of this discussion,” Ahmad told a weekly news conference in Islamabad.

A State Department spokesperson in Washington would not directly confirm whether the conversion had taken place.

“U.S. officials talk to Pakistani officials regularly on a range of issues. As standard practice, we don’t comment on the specifics of private diplomatic conversations,” the spokesperson told VOA.

Nikkei Asia first reported Friday on the Bajwa-Sherman contact, saying the Pakistani military chief asked for the White House and Treasury Department to use their leverage to help speed up the release of the loan. The United States is the largest shareholder in the IMF.

“Yes,” the sources in Islamabad said when asked whether the two officials had spoken on the matter involving the IMF loan disbursement. The outcome of Bajwa’s appeal was not known immediately, however.

Critics attributed the delay in the release of the loan to Pakistan’s track record of not living up to commitments to undertake crucial economic reforms.

Late on Friday, Bajwa also spoke by phone to General Michael Erik Kurilla, the commander of the U.S. CENTCOM.

The army’s media wing in a statement quoted its chief as telling Kurilla that Pakistan “values its relations with (the) U.S. and we earnestly look forward to enhance mutually beneficial multi-domain relations based on common interests.”

The statement quoted U.S. commander as pledging “to play his role for further improvement in cooperation with Pakistan at all levels.”

The approval of the IMF program is key to Pakistan’s access to other avenues of finances for the country, including the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank.

Pakistan’s central bank foreign exchange reserves have dwindled to just about $8.5 billion, barely enough to cover a few weeks of imports, and its currency has fallen to historic lows against the U.S. dollar in recent days, with inflation at its highest in more than a decade.

Shortly after negotiating the deal with the IMF, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s coalition government said it would “very soon” receive the first tranche of $1.17 billion.

But Sharif is under increasing pressure from ousted Prime Minister Imran Khan, who is demanding the government step down and hold snap general elections in Pakistan.

Khan criticized Bajwa for reaching out to Washington, saying “it is not the job of an army chief to talk to the U.S. on financial matters.” The deposed prime minister told local ARY television channel in an interview the army chief’s move had demonstrated that neither the IMF nor foreign governments trust the Shehbaz administration.

Analysts noted, however, that both civilian and military leaders in Pakistan have traditionally conducted economic dealings with Washington, citing the army’s role in  Pakistani politics and foreign policy matters.

Khan alleges Shehbaz conspired with Washington to orchestrate his government’s ouster in a parliamentary vote of confidence in April, triggered in part by rising inflation. The U.S. rejects the charges.

The former prime minister indirectly also has accused the military chief of playing a role in his removal from office, charges the army rejects as politically motivated.

Khan and his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party are campaigning hard to stage a comeback in the next election widely expected to be held by October. The opposition leader has organized and addressed massive anti-government public rallies across Pakistan since his ouster.

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Війська РФ вночі обстріляли спальний район Миколаєва, одна людина загинула – ОВА

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Українські військові заявляють, що на Донеччині збили російський Су-25

За даними Генерального штабу ЗСУ, станом на 30 липня Росія під час повномасштабного вторгнення в Україну втратила 222 своїх літаки

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US Sentences Canadian Who Narrated IS Videos to Life in Prison

A Canadian jihadist said to be a key player in the Islamic State group’s propaganda production and who narrated multiple violent videos was sentenced Friday to life in prison, the U.S. Department of Justice said.

Mohammed Khalifa, who was born in Saudi Arabia, pleaded guilty in December to conspiring to provide material support to IS resulting in death.

According to the Department of Justice (DOJ) indictment, he left Canada in 2013 to join the IS group in Syria, where he quickly took on a leading role in the self-proclaimed “caliphate” that straddled that country and Iraq.

Khalifa, now 39, quickly began serving in “prominent roles” within the IS group and by 2014 had become a key member of a propaganda cell, the DOJ said, due in particular to his mastery of both English and Arabic.

That cell was notably behind the production of videos of foreign hostages being executed, including US journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, who were decapitated in 2014.

Khalifa additionally provided the English voiceover for two of the most “exceptionally violent” IS videos, from 2014 and 2017, in which he is seen executing Syrian soldiers, the DOJ said.

He is also the alleged narrator of recruitment videos showing IS attacks in France and Belgium, which urge others to take part in similar acts of violence.

In January 2019, he was captured during a firefight by Kurdish-dominated Syrian forces allied with the United States.

In an interview the same year with Canada’s CBC from his Syrian prison, Khalifa showed no regret for his actions. He said he wanted to return to Canada with his wife and their three children, but on the condition that he would not be tried there.

However, he was entrusted in 2021 to American authorities and ultimately transferred to the United States.

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Вибухи в окупованому Енергодарі: підірвано три одиниці військової техніки РФ – мер

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US, Japan to Set Up Research Center for Next Semiconductors

The United States and Japan launched a new high-level economic dialogue Friday aimed at pushing back against China and countering the disruption caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The two longtime allies agreed to establish a new joint research center for next-generation semiconductors during the so-called economic “two-plus-two” ministerial meeting in Washington, Japanese Trade Minister Koichi Hagiuda said.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi and Hagiuda also discussed energy and food security, the officials said in a news briefing.

“As the world’s first- and third-largest economies, it is critical that we work together to defend the rules-based economic order, one in which all countries can participate, compete and prosper,” Blinken told the opening session.

Hagiuda said “Japan will quickly move to action” on next-generation semiconductor research and said Washington and Tokyo had agreed to launch a “new R&D organization” to establish a secure source of the vital components.

The research hub would be open for other “like-minded” countries to participate in, he said.

The two countries did not immediately release additional details of the plan, but Japan’s Nikkei Shimbun newspaper earlier said it would be set up in Japan by the end of this year to research 2-nanometer semiconductor chips. It will include a prototype production line and should begin producing semiconductors by 2025, the newspaper said.

“As we discussed today, semiconductors are the linchpin of our economic and national security,” said Raimondo, adding that the officials had discussed collaboration on semiconductors, “especially with respect to advanced semiconductors.”

Taiwan now makes the vast majority of semiconductors under 10 nanometers, which are used in products such as smart phones, and there is concern about the stability of supply should trouble arise involving Taiwan and China, which views the island as part of its territory.

The United States and Japan said in a joint statement they would work together “to foster supply chain resilience in strategic sectors, including, in particular, semiconductors, batteries, and critical minerals.” They vowed to “build a strong battery supply chain to lead collaboration between like-minded countries.”

On ties with Russia, Hagiuda said he gained U.S. understanding about Japan’s intention to keep its stake in the Sakhalin-2 oil and gas project despite sanctions against Moscow by Washington, Tokyo and others following the Ukraine invasion.

“There are voices calling for withdrawal. But it would mean our stake goes to a third country and Russia earns an enormous profit. We explained how keeping our stake is in line with sanctions, and I believe we gained U.S. understanding,” he said.

Japanese trading houses Mitsui & Co and Mitsubishi Corp hold a combined 22.5% stake in the project.

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Президент Румунії розкритикував Орбана за його заяви про «змішування рас»

«Неприпустимо, щоб європейський посадовець виступав із промовою, побудованою на расовій теорії, яка призвела до найжахливішої катастрофи 20 століття»

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Вдалося ідентифікувати 5600 дітей, яких Росія примусово вивезла з України – МВС

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US Extends Temporary Protected Status for Syrians

The U.S. government has extended Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Syrians living in the United States for an additional 18 months.

In a statement Friday, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security said the extension was granted “due to ongoing armed conflict and extraordinary and temporary conditions in Syria that prevent individuals from safely returning.”

TPS is a temporary immigration status granted to migrants from eligible nations. It allows those who qualify for the program to obtain work permits and be exempt from deportation.

The status is granted to those from countries that experience extraordinary events, including natural disasters and armed conflict.

“We are committed to protecting Syrian nationals in the United States as the ongoing civil war in Syria persists, leading to continued destruction and despair,” said Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.

The agency said, “Over a decade after the uprising that sparked the war, Syria continues to be mired in conflict, political instability and economic turmoil, all made more acute by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The extension allows approximately 6,448 current beneficiaries to retain TPS through March 31, 2024, according to the Department of Homeland Security. It said other Syrians residing in the United States can also apply for the program and estimated that an additional 960 individuals might be eligible, including Syrians without immigration status and individuals without nationality who last resided in Syria.