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‘Days or hours left’: Russia tightens the noose in Mariupol

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By Adam Schreck in Kyiv

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Russian forces tightened the noose around the defenders holed up Wednesday in a mammoth steel plant that represented the last known Ukrainian stronghold in Mariupol, as a fighter apparently on the inside warned in a video plea for help: “We may have only a few days or hours left.”

With the holdouts coming under punishing new bombing attacks, another attempt to evacuate civilians trapped in the pulverized port city failed because of continued fighting.

Meanwhile, the number of people fleeing the country topped 5 million, the Kremlin said it submitted a draft of its demands for ending the war, and the West raced to supply Ukraine with heavier weapons to counter the Russians’ new drive to seize the industrial east.

With global tensions running high, Russia reported the first successful test launch of a new type of intercontinental ballistic missile, the Sarmat. President Vladimir Putin boasted it can overcome any missile defense system and make those who threaten Russia “think twice,” and the head of the Russian state aerospace agency called the launch out of northern Russia “a present to NATO.”

The Pentagon described the test as “routine” and said it wasn’t considered a threat.

On the battlefield, Ukraine said Moscow continued to mount assaults across the east, probing for weak points in Ukrainian defensive lines. Russia said it launched hundreds of missile and air attacks on targets that included concentrations of troops and vehicles.

The Kremlin’s stated goal is the capture of the Donbas, the mostly Russian-speaking eastern region that is home to coal mines, metal plants and heavy-equipment factories. Detaching it would give Putin a badly needed victory two months into the war, after the botched attempt to storm the capital, Kyiv.

Analysts say the offensive in the east could devolve into a war of attrition as Russia runs up against Ukraine’s most experienced, battle-hardened troops, who have been fighting pro-Moscow separatists in the Donbas for the past eight years.

Russia said it presented Ukraine with a draft document outlining its demands for ending the conflict — days after Putin said the talks were at a “dead end.”

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that “the ball is in their court, we’re waiting for a response.” He gave no details on the draft, and it was not clear when it was sent or if it offered anything new to the Ukrainians, who presented their own demands last month.

Ukrainian President Volodmyr Zelenskyy said he had not seen or heard of the proposal, though one of his top advisers said the Ukrainian side was reviewing it.

Moscow has long demanded Ukraine drop any bid to join NATO. Ukraine has said it would agree to that in return for security guarantees from a number of other countries. Other sources of tension include the status of both the Crimean Peninsula, seized by Moscow in 2014, and eastern Ukraine, where the separatists have declared independent republics recognized by Russia.

In devastated Mariupol, Ukraine said the Russians dropped heavy bombs to flatten what was left of the sprawling Azvostal steel plant, believed to be the last pocket of resistance in the city.

A few thousand Ukrainian troops, by the Russians’ estimate, remained in the plant and its labyrinth of tunnels and bunkers spread out across about 11 square kilometers (4 square miles). Zelenskyy said about 1,000 civilians were also trapped there.

A Ukrainian posted a video plea on Facebook urging world leaders to help evacuate people from the plant, saying, “We have more than 500 wounded soldiers and hundreds of civilians with us, including women and children.”

The officer, who identified himself as Serhiy Volynskyy of the 36th Marine Brigade, said: “This may be our last appeal. We may have only a few days or hours left.” The authenticity of the video could not be independently verified.

The Russian side issued a new ultimatum to the defenders to surrender, but the Ukrainians have ignored all previous demands.

All told, more than 100,000 people were believed trapped with little if any food, water, medicine or heat in Mariupol, which had a pre-war population of over 400,000.

Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said the latest effort to open a safe corridor for women, children and the elderly to escape failed because the Russians did not observe a cease-fire. Many previous such agreements have fallen apart because of continued fighting.

U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken warned of the horrors yet to be revealed in Mariupol, given the death and destruction left behind in Bucha, near Kyiv, after the Russians retreated.

“We can only anticipate that when this tide also recedes from Mariupol, we’re going to see far worse, if that’s possible to imagine,” he said.

Mariupol holds strategic and symbolic value for both sides. The scale of suffering there has made it a worldwide focal point of the war. Mariupol’s fall would deprive Ukraine of a vital port, complete a land bridge between Russia and the Crimean Peninsula, and free up Russian troops to move elsewhere in the Donbas.

As Russia continued to funnel troops and equipment into the Donbas, Western nations rushed to boost the flow of military supplies to Kyiv for this new phase of the war, which is likely to involve trench warfare, long-range artillery attacks and tank battles across relatively open terrain.

U.S. President Joe Biden is expected to announce a new weapons package in the coming days that will include additional artillery, and Canada and the Netherlands also said they would send more heavy weaponry.

Also, a senior U.S. defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the Pentagon’s assessment of the war, said the training of Ukrainian personnel on American 155 mm howitzers has begun in a European country outside Ukraine, and the first of 18 promised such weapons began arriving on the continent.

Putin, meanwhile, boasted that the Sarmat missile has “no equivalents in the world.” The Sarmat is intended to eventually replace the Soviet-built missile code-named Satan by NATO as a major component of Russia’s nuclear arsenal.

It will ”make those who, in the heat of frantic, aggressive rhetoric, try to threaten our country think twice,” the Russian leader said.

Looking for a path to peace, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres requested meetings with Putin and Zelenskyy in their capitals to discuss how to stop the fighting. The U.N. received no immediate response.

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Associated Press journalists Mstyslav Chernov and Felipe Dana in Kharkiv, Ukraine; Yesica Fisch in Kramatorsk, Ukraine; and Robert Burns and Aamer Madhani in Washington contributed to this report, as did other AP staff members around the world.

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Follow the AP’s coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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armed conflict

Quebecer Émile-Antoine Roy-Sirois, code name ‘Beaver,’ dies on front lines in Ukraine

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By Virginie Ann in Montreal

Émile-Antoine Roy-Sirois, a 31-year-old Quebecer who recently died in Ukraine fighting Russian forces, volunteered on the front lines because he wanted to protect innocent women and children, according to a soldier who fought with him.

Roy-Sirois “was an intellectual who cared about humanity,” said Blackhawk, a fighter who, for security reasons, would only use a code name in an interview Monday on Instagram.

“He was kind and never meant anyone harm. He listened to orders and was brave.”

Roy-Sirois died on July 18 after spending about four months fighting in Ukraine, said Blackhawk, who is from Idaho. “He died a hero beside his friends trying to transport a wounded American named Luke, code name Skywalker.”

The Ukrainian Canadian Congress issued a statement on Monday saying it was saddened to learn about the death of Roy-Sirois.

“Mr. Roy-Sirois will be remembered by the Ukrainian people and our community for his selflessness and commitment to the values of liberty and justice that Canada and Ukraine share,” the organization said.

The leader of Roy-Sirois’s team of fighters in Ukraine said the Quebecer and three other volunteers were killed by a Russian tank shell near Siversk, in the eastern part of the country. Angel — who also wouldn’t use his real name for security reasons — said he felt lucky to have Roy-Sirois as “a brother in battle.”

“We were the only two Canadians who made it to the front lines and stayed,” Angel, who is from Saskatchewan, said Monday in an interview on Facebook Messenger. “He had the option to leave the front line but stayed. Anyone would be proud of his bravery, and I was lucky enough to have him.”

Angel and Blackhawk both described Roy-Sirois as an easygoing, funny guy whose code name was “Beaver.”

“He said there were a lot of beavers in Canada,” Blackhawk said.

Global Affairs Canada said in a statement it is aware of the death of a Canadian in Ukraine but did not give details.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on July 25, 2022.

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

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armed conflict

Special meeting of House foreign affairs committee will discuss Russia turbine export

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OTTAWA — A House of Commons committee will hold a special meeting this morning to discuss Canada’s controversial decision to send repaired parts for a Russian natural gas pipeline back to Germany.

The Liberal government is facing mounting pressure over its move to exempt six Siemens Energy turbines, which were serviced in Montreal, from the economic sanctions it levied against Russia over its invasion of Ukraine.

Russian state-owned energy company Gazprom reduced gas deliveries from its Nord Stream 1 pipeline, which runs to northeastern Germany, by 60 per cent last month, citing turbine-related technical problems.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the decision to deliver the turbines was made so Canada could support European allies that are facing energy crises as Russia constricts access to its oil and gas supply.

Conservative and NDP MPs triggered the meeting of the House of Commons foreign affairs and international development committee to raise their request for a study on the exports.

The Ukrainian Canadian Congress called for such a meeting earlier this week, and the Ukraine World Congress is petitioning the Federal Court to uphold the sanctions regime and stop the shipment.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 15, 2022.

The Canadian Press

Ukraine criticizes Canada over return of turbines for Russia-Germany pipeline

The Ukrainian government is calling on Canada to reconsider its decision to allow the delivery of turbines from a Russia-Europe natural gas pipeline to Germany, saying it sets a “dangerous precedent” when it comes to sanctions against the Russian regime.

Natural Services Canada Minister Jonathan Wilkinson announced on social media Saturday that turbines from the Nord Stream 1 pipeline—which supplies natural gas from Russia to Germany — that had been sent to Montreal for scheduled repairs would be allowed to be returned.

Back in June, Siemens Energy said Canadian sanctions imposed on Russia over its invasion of Ukraine meant the company couldn’t return the turbines.

In his recent announcement, Wilkinson said turbine maker Siemens Canada would be granted a “time-limited and revocable permit” to return the equipment — essentially giving it an exemption.

He said delivery was necessary to support “Europe’s ability to access reliable and affordable energy” as it tries to transition away from reliance on Russian oil and gas. The government says it plans to return six turbines.

In a statement Sunday, Ukraine’s Foreign Affairs Ministry and Energy Ministry expressed their “deep disappointment” in Canada’s decision.

“This dangerous precedent violates international solidarity, goes against the principle of the rule of law and will have only one consequence: it will strengthen Moscow’s sense of impunity,” it read.

In the lead up to Canada’s decision, German vice chancellor Robert Habeck had voiced concerns Russia may shut off deliveries of natural gas to Europe after the planned maintenance.  The warning followed Russia’s previous reduction of natural gas flow to Germany, along with Italy, Austria, the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

While Gazprom, Russia’s state-owned energy giant, has blamed the pipeline’s reduction of natural gas to Germany on the repairs in Canada, German leaders have cast doubt on the explanation of technical problems and characterized it instead as a political move.

The Ukrainian government voiced similar concerns in its statement, saying Russia’s threats amounted to “blackmail that has no technical justification.”

“Russia is able to continue to supply gas to Germany in full without this turbine,” it said.

Germany, which is Europe’s largest economy, warned last month it was in a crisis over Russia’s decision to cut the amount of gas flowing through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline by 60 per cent.

Alexandra Chyczij, president of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, expressed disappointment in Canada’s decision, saying Ottawa is bowing to Russian threats to cut off the gas supply by fulfilling Germany’s request.

“Canada will not only contravene its policy of isolating Russia, it will set a dangerous precedent that will lead to the weakening of the sanctions regime imposed on Russia,” Chyczij said in a statement.

“This decision will ensure that the coffers of the Russian state budget will continue to be filled with European money which will be used to finance Russia’s genocide against the Ukrainian people. ”

Chyczij said Canada was put in the position of deciding whether to fulfill the request of an ally or “hold firm on the sanctions imposed on Gazprom and Nordstream 1.”

Three Conservative MPs also issued a statement on Sunday saying that allowing the equipment’s return undermines the sanctions Canada has imposed on Russia at a time when it should be stepping up as an alternative provider of gas to Europe instead.

“Allowing the return of the gas turbine sets a dangerous precedent of folding to Putin’s blackmail of Europe, and will negatively impact Canada’s standing on the world stage,” reads a joint statement by Tories Michael Chong,  James Bezan and Pierre Paul-Hus.

In light of the criticism over Canada’s decision, Wilkinson’s office pointed to the minister’s earlier statement. It said not only was Germany’s economy vulnerable, but “Germans themselves will be at risk of being unable to heat their homes as winter approaches.”

The statement also noted Canada has levied sanctions against more than 1,600 individuals since Russia annexed the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea in 2014.

The same day Wilkinson announced the turbines would be returned, Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly announced Canada planned to apply a new set of sanctions targeting Russia’s land and pipeline transportation and manufacturing sectors.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 10, 2022.

— With files from The Associated Press

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