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Russian soldier sentenced to life at Kyiv war crimes trial

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KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — A Ukrainian court sentenced a 21-year-old Russian soldier to life in prison on Monday for killing a Ukrainian civilian, in the first war crimes trial since Russia’s invasion.

Sgt. Vadim Shishimarin was accused of shooting a Ukrainian civilian in the head in a village in the northeastern Sumy region in the early days of the war.

He pleaded guilty and testified that he shot the man after being ordered to do so. He told the court that an officer insisted that the Ukrainian man, who was speaking on his cellphone, could pinpoint their location to the Ukrainian forces.

During the trial, Shishimarin asked the widow of the victim to forgive him.

Shishimarin’s defense attorney Victor Ovsyanikov argued that his client, a member of a Russian tank unit who was eventually captured, had been unprepared for the “violent military confrontation” and mass casualties that Russian troops encountered when they first invaded Ukraine.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier story follows below.

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Russian forces have stepped up shelling in Ukraine’s eastern industrial heartland as they press their offensive in the region that is now the focus of fighting in the 3-month-old war.

Meanwhile, a Ukrainian court is expected to sentence a Russian soldier on Monday in the first war crimes trial of the conflict. The 21-year-old sergeant, who has pleaded guilty to shooting a Ukrainian man in the early days of the war, could get life in prison.

Grinding battles in the Donbas, where Ukrainian and Russian forces are fighting town by town, have forced many civilians to flee their homes.

“We haven’t been able to see the sun for three months. We are almost blind because we were in darkness for three months,” said Rayisa Rybalko, who hid with her family first in their basement and then in a bomb shelter at the local school before fleeing their village of Novomykhailivka. “The world should have seen that.”

Her son-in-law Dmytro Khaliapin said heavy artillery pounded the village. “Houses are being ruined,” he said. “It’s a horror.”

In Tokyo on Monday, U.S. President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida joined in condemning Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine. Earlier on his trip to Asia, Biden signed legislation granting Ukraine $40 billion more in U.S. support for its defense against the Russian attack.

Polish President Andrzej Duda traveled to Kyiv on Sunday to support Ukraine’s European Union aspirations and addressed Ukraine’s parliament, receiving a standing ovation when he thanked the lawmakers for letting him speak where “the heart of a free, independent and democratic Ukraine beats.”

Poland has become an important ally of Ukraine, welcoming millions of Ukrainian refugees and becoming a gateway for Western humanitarian aid and weapons and a transit point for some foreign fighters who have volunteered to fight Russian forces.

Western support — both financial and military — has been key to Ukraine’s defense, helping their outgunned and outnumbered forces to repel Russia’s attempt to take the capital of Kyiv and fight them to a standstill in other places. In the face of those setbacks, Moscow has outlined more limited goals in Ukraine, with its sights now on trying to expand the territory that Russia-backed separatists have held since 2014.

Ukrainian forces dug in around Sievierodonetsk, the main city under Ukrainian control in the Luhansk province of the Donbas, as Russia intensified efforts to capture it. Gov. Serhiy Haidai accused the Russians of “simply intentionally trying to destroy the city … engaging in a scorched-earth approach.”

Haidai said Sunday that the Russians had occupied several towns and cities in Luhansk after indiscriminate, 24-hour shelling and concentrating forces and weaponry there, bringing in troops from Kharkiv to the northwest, Mariupol to the south, and from inside Russia.

But the Ukrainian military said that Russian forces were unsuccessful in their attack on Oleksandrivka, a village outside of Sievierodonetsk.

Ukraine’s parliament voted Sunday to extend martial law and mobilize its armed forces for a third time, until Aug. 23. Ukrainian officials have said little since the war began about the extent of their country’s casualties, but Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Sunday that 50 to 100 Ukrainian fighters were being killed, apparently each day, in the east.

While the east is now the focus of flighting, the conflict is not confined there. Powerful explosions were heard early Monday in Korosten, about 160 kilometers (100 miles) west of Kyiv, the town’s deputy mayor said. It was the third straight day of apparent attacks in the Zhytomyr District, Ukrainian news agencies reported.

In other developments, Ukraine’s first lady, Olena Zelenska, gave a rare interview to national broadcaster ICTV alongside her husband and said she has hardly seen him since the war began.

“Our family, like all Ukrainian families, is now separated,” she said.

Zelenskyy called the interview itself “a date on air,” and the couple, who have two children, joked in front of the journalists.

“We are joking, but we are really waiting, like everyone else, to be reunited, like all families in Ukraine who are separated now, waiting for their relatives and friends who want to be together again,” he said.

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Becatoros reported from Donetsk. Associated Press journalists Yuras Karmanau in Lviv, Andrea Rosa in Kharkiv and other AP staffers around the world contributed.

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

Elena Becatoros, Oleksandr Stashevskyi And Ricardo Mazalan, The Associated Press

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Putin declares victory in embattled Donbas region of Luhansk

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POKROVSK, Ukraine (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday declared victory in the eastern Ukrainian region of Luhansk, one day after Ukrainian forces withdrew from their last remaining bulwark of resistance in the province.

Russia’s Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu reported to Putin in a televised meeting Monday that Russian forces had taken control of Luhansk, which together with the neighboring Donetsk province makes up Ukraine’s industrial heartland of Donbas.

Shoigu told Putin that “the operation” was completed on Sunday after Russian troops overran the city of Lysychansk, the last stronghold of Ukrainian forces in Luhansk.

Putin, in turn, said that the military units “that took part in active hostilities and achieved success, victory” in Luhansk, “should rest, increase their combat capabilities.”

Putin’s declaration came as Russian forces tried to press their offensive deeper into eastern Ukraine after the Ukrainian military confirmed that its forces had withdrawn from Lysychansk on Sunday. Luhansk governor Serhii Haidai said on Monday that Ukrainian forces had retreated from the city to avoid being surrounded.

“There was a risk of Lysychansk encirclement,” Haidai told the Associated Press, adding that Ukrainian troops could have held on for a few more weeks but would have potentially paid too high a price.

“We managed to do centralized withdrawal and evacuate all injured,” Haidai said. “We took back all the equipment, so from this point withdrawal was organized well.”

The Ukrainian General Staff said Russian forces were now focusing their efforts on pushing toward the line of Siversk, Fedorivka and Bakhmut in the Donetsk region, about half of which is controlled by Russia. The Russian army has also intensified its shelling of the key Ukrainian strongholds of Sloviansk and Kramatorsk, deeper in Donetsk.

On Sunday, six people, including a 9-year-old girl, were killed in the Russian shelling of Sloviansk and another 19 people were wounded, according to local authorities. Kramatorsk also came under fire on Sunday.

An intelligence briefing Monday from the British Defense Ministry supported the Ukrainian military’s assessment, noting that Russian forces will “now almost certainly” switch to capturing Donetsk. The briefing said the conflict in Donbas has been “grinding and attritional,” and is unlikely to change in the coming weeks.

While the Russian army has a massive advantage in firepower, military analysts say that it doesn’t have any significant superiority in the number of troops. That means Moscow lacks resources for quick land gains and can only advance slowly, relying on heavy artillery and rocket barrages to soften Ukrainian defenses.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has made capturing the entire Donbas a key goal in his war in Ukraine, now in its fifth month. Moscow-backed separatists in Donbas have battled Ukrainian forces since 2014 when they declared independence from Kyiv after the Russian annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea. Russia formally recognized the self-proclaimed republics days before its Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine.

In his nightly video address, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy acknowledged the withdrawal, but vowed that Ukrainian forces will fight their way back.

“If the command of our army withdraws people from certain points of the front where the enemy has the greatest fire superiority, in particular this applies to Lysychansk, it means only one thing: We will return thanks to our tactics, thanks to the increase in the supply of modern weapons,” Zelenskyy said.

Since failing to take Kyiv and other areas in Ukraine’s northeast early in the war, Russia has focused on Donbas, unleashing fierce shelling and engaging in house-to-house combat that devastated cities in the region.

Russia’s invasion has also devastated Ukraine’s agricultural sector, disrupting supply chains of seed and fertilizer needed by Ukrainian farmers and blocking the export of grain, a key source of revenue for the country.

In its Monday intelligence report, Britain’s defense ministry pointed to the Russian blockade of the key Ukrainian port of Odesa, which has severely restricted grain exports. They predicted that Ukraine’s agricultural exports would reach only 35% of the 2021 total this year as a result.

As Moscow pushed its offensive across Ukraine’s east, areas in western Russia came under attack Sunday in a revival of sporadic apparent Ukrainian strikes across the border. The governor of the Belgorod region in Western Russia said fragments of an intercepted Ukrainian missile killed four people Sunday. In the Russian city of Kursk, two Ukrainian drones were shot down, according to the Russian Defense Ministry.

In other developments:

— Ukrainian soldiers returning from the front lines in eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region — where Russia is waging a fierce offensive — describe life during what has turned into a grueling war of attrition as apocalyptic.

— Two Russian airplanes departed Bulgaria on Sunday with scores of Russian diplomatic staff and their families amid a mass expulsion that has sent tensions soaring between the historically close nations, a Russian diplomat said.

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Associated Press journalists Maria Grazia Murru and Oleksandr Stashevskyi contributed from Kyiv, Ukraine.

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

Francesca Ebel, The Associated Press

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Bruce Dowbiggin

What Happens When The West Runs Out Of Ukrainians?

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Having Joe Biden play the Jimmy Kimmel card may not be great politics— whose vote will it change?— but it was certainly great comedy. And as the West lurches toward a very uncertain fate in Ukraine, comedy (and a teleprompter) may be all Biden has got.

You remember Ukraine? Very hot story for a while till Johnny Depp and Amber Heard slimed it from the headlines. The Snowflakes embraced the gutsy-nation-with-a-heart that was being ravaged by Russia. Kind hearts and coronets. Put its flag in their window, on their Facebook avatar, on their car bumper.

Imagine Justin Trudeau’s infamous teddy-bear hug in the graveyard. Then multiply it by infinity on the empathy curve. That’s how the guilty liberal left saw Ukraine’s torment. They weren’t too fussy about the blood-soaked history of the region. Which is just as well. It’s not something to put on your fridge door.

In case you forgot, Russia dared the West to stop Putin going into Ukraine. Biden double-dog-dared him to try. Putin said, “Hold my vodka” and threw his army at its neighbour. Depending on whom you read this assault has either been a disaster for Russia or a disaster for Ukraine. We only know it’s continuing to chew up men and materiel  at a prodigious rate.

One person it has been a boon for, however, is Ukrainian president Volodmyr Zelenskyy. While his countrymen die, the former comic actor has used the attack on his nation to become— in Western eyes— equal measures of George Patton/ Winston Churchill/ Tony Soprano. Sporting his fatigues and guilting Western governments into helping repulse the Russians, he’s become famous and very rich. So have his pals.

That’s because, while the war has been hell for everyday Ukrainians, anyone in on the money-laundering aspect of this conflict is doing swell. America— which refuses to spend on sealing its own border– has promised north of $50 B in aid/ weapons/ technical assistance to repel the Russian invasion of Zelenskyy’s border.

The rest of the West has ponied up sizeable chunks, too. During his various photo-op fly-ins, Canada’s PM Justin Trudeau promised $98 M. in ammo plus an extra $1 million to “help investigate sex crimes by Russian troops in Ukraine”.

Anyone believe this money will ever benefit an ordinary Ukrainian huddled in his collapsed apartment building? The money will pass through Ukraine’s corrupt oligarchy like consommé through a strainer, leaving only a faint whiff of its presence behind. The cash will make its way back to the U.S. in contracts while the weapons the U.S. supplies will likely wind up with Ukraine’s notorious Azov Brigade or being sold (along with U.S, military surplus from Afghanistan) in the black market to bad actors with evil intentions.

If this is news to you then you weren’t paying attention when the DC Swamp impeached Donald Trump for asking Zelenskyy how much money the Biden crime family was making in his country. “Calling Col. Vindman! Clean-up in aisle three!” It was panic.y

When the war didn’t end as soon as Putin or shell-shocked Ukrainians wanted, it morphed into something else. Biden’s “crippling” economic sanctions against Russia having failed as the the price of oil skyrocketed, a new strategy was called for. Because the Ukrainians said they were determined to fight to the last man, the U.S. decided to take them at their word: as a proxy force to unseat Putin at home.

Voilá. The New Biden Plan. Keep Putin’s army in the field, keep the payola pipeline flowing and pray that someone assassinates or deposes Putin before the U.S. mid-term elections. The entire fiasco is now as open-ended as the Stones Farewell Tour.

Which is fine if the Ukrainians are, as advertised, willing to fight till the last man. America and the West can keep their hands clean. The media can play Plucky Little Belgium stories for their gullible viewers/ readers. “Experts” can war-game till the cows come home.

The fly in this ointment is that, with American prestige and profit invested so deeply now, what happens if they run out of Ukrainian patriots to throw into the fire against a seemingly unrepentant Putin? If the proxies are pushing up daisies what is Plan B? No one in the Western elites is sending their boys to die in Kiev or the Donbas region.

Further, Putin has nuclear weapons, and he’s convinced everyone that he’s just crazy enough to use them. Having impertinent Ukrainians shoot Russians is one thing, Having American or NATO soldiers on the move near the border of the Russian Motherland is another. A desperate Putin could do what generations of Soviet leaders would not. Go full Doctor Strangelove.

To say nothing of what a mentally declining Joe Biden might try if it looked like Donald Trump could take back the White House in 2024. His cognitive decline is alarming. His sudden policy shifts are unsettling. No one knows what he’ll say next. Least of all Biden.

The best outcome has always been a negotiated settlement. But Biden’s escalation— trading Ukrainian lives for destabilizing Putin— has made that a non-starter.  Worse, the same public that bought government lockdown propaganda on Covid has’t figured out they’re being gamed again. They’re still sentimentalizing Ukrainians’ distress rather than demanding an endgame in Biden’s reckless foreign policy.

If all this eventually reminds them of Afghanistan they might be on to something. But at least they’ll always have Jimmy Kimmel.

 

Bruce Dowbiggin @dowbboy is the editor of Not The Public Broadcaster (http://www.notthepublicbroadcaster.com). The best-selling author was nominated for the BBN Business Book award of 2020 for Personal Account with Tony Comper. A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada’s top television sports broadcaster, he’s also a regular contributor to Sirius XM Canada Talks Ch. 167. His new book with his son Evan Inexact Science: The Six Most Compelling Draft Years In NHL History is now available on http://brucedowbigginbooks.ca/book-personalaccount.aspx

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