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Veterans group winding down work helping Afghan interpreters get to Canada

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OTTAWA — What began as a 30-day fundraising campaign to help Afghan interpreters flee the Taliban turned into a harrowing, chaotic and deeply frustrating eight-month effort for the Veterans Transition Network, and its executive director says it’s time for that to end.

The group started raising money last summer when the Taliban swept to power in Afghanistan, but executive director Oliver Thorne says no one anticipated how long it would be involved.

“This has sort of transformed from a crisis evacuation effort into a long-term migration effort,” said Thorne.

The network is ending its public fundraising on May 2, winding down operations over the next six months and returning its focus to mental health programming for Canadian veterans.

Non-governmental organizations led by veterans have been helping people who worked with the Canadian Armed Forces get out of Afghanistan and head to neighbouring countries, then on to Canada.

Thorne says “bureaucratic hoops” are making it difficult to help people get the proper paperwork and causing a bottleneck, and he’s calling on the federal government to resume consular services in Afghanistan.

“The ability to provide consular support in Afghanistan would alleviate a lot of these tensions,” he said. “That’s where we’re really seeing the bottleneck.”

Retired major general Denis Thompson is part of that grassroots network of veterans, refugee advocates and volunteers working to help people navigate the complex system of visas and other paperwork. He’s on the Veterans Transition Network’s board of directors and is an adviser to the board of Aman Lara, a Canadian NGO that’s been running safe houses in Afghanistan.

He said about 700 people in Pakistan can’t get to Canada because they don’t have an exit visa from that country. Another 500 are ready to leave Afghanistan but there’s nowhere for them to go.

“They have the right documentation,” Thompson said. “The pipe is stuck, essentially.”

Around 450 of those who are in Pakistan have expired visas and would need to return to Afghanistan to renew them, putting them at further risk of reprisals from the Taliban.

Political upheaval in Pakistan after its recent elections may make it more difficult for Canada to negotiate changes to exit visa requirements, Thompson said, something he feels should have already happened.

“These are people that have already been employed by Canada that already put themselves in harm’s way,” Thompson said. “I just find it a little bit odd that we don’t put more emphasis on those that have helped us.”

Thorne said he’s also frustrated Afghans don’t have “this extraordinary pathway” that’s been made available to Ukrainians fleeing the Russian invasion.

Both advocates feel the government needs to do a better job facilitating and funding the work of NGOs and humanitarian groups, but praised the efforts of the “hardworking people” at Global Affairs Canada and Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.

“A lot of this could have been delegated to officials who are willing to get the job done, but don’t appear to have the legal tools to do it,” Thompson said. “So that’s the part that frustrates me. And that’s a ministerial responsibility.”

Sanctions prohibit Canadians from spending money in Afghanistan that will end up in the hands of the Taliban, either directly or indirectly, meaning requests for federal funding are stalled and operations within the country are limited.

In an open letter sent April 4 to the ministers of justice, public safety, foreign affairs and international development, nine humanitarian organizations including the Red Cross pleaded with the government to change this, noting that other countries have found a way to exempt humanitarian groups from sanctions.

“Examples of ‘indirect’ contributions could include paying taxes on staff salaries, something that is required of any organization that wants to continue operating in Afghanistan,” the letter read.

Added Thompson: “To be frank, a lot of the solutions to these problems are coming from the NGO sector, and the problems are coming from the government.”

The federal government has pledged to resettle 40,000 Afghan refugees and so far more than 10,600 people have arrived in Canada. The departments of Foreign Affairs and Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada did not respond to questions Monday.

The Veterans Transition Network says it has raised $4.6 million and helped 2,061 people get out of Afghanistan.

Thorne said the group will try to determine if another organization can step in and take over its efforts. “I’m really proud of the incredible work that my team has done.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 18, 2022.

Sarah Ritchie, The Canadian 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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Russia hits Kyiv with missiles; Putin warns West on supplies

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KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Russia took aim at Western military supplies for Ukraine’s government with early Sunday airstrikes in Kyiv that it said destroyed tanks donated from abroad, as President Vladimir Putin warned that any Western deliveries of long-range rocket systems to Ukraine would prompt Moscow to hit “objects that we haven’t yet struck.”

The cryptic threat of a military escalation from the Russian leader didn’t specify what the new targets might be, but it comes days after the United States announced plans to deliver $700 million of security assistance for Ukraine that includes four precision-guided, medium-range rocket systems, helicopters, Javelin anti-tank weapon systems, radars, tactical vehicles, spare parts and more.

Military analysts say Russia is hoping to overrun the embattled eastern Donbas region, where Russia-backed separatists have fought the Ukrainian government for years, before any weapons that might turn the tide arrive. The Pentagon said earlier this week it will take at least three weeks to get the precision U.S. weapons and trained troops onto the battlefield.

Russian forces pounded railway facilities and other infrastructure early Sunday in Kyiv, which had previously seen weeks of eerie calm. Ukraine’s nuclear plant operator, Energoatom, said one cruise missile buzzed the Pivdennoukrainsk nuclear plant, about 350 kilometers (220 miles) to the south, on its way to the capital — citing the dangers of such a near miss.

There was no immediate confirmation from Ukraine that the Russian airstrikes had destroyed tanks.

Kyiv hadn’t faced any such strikes since the April 28 visit of U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres. The early morning attack triggered air raid alarms and showed that Russia still had the capability and willingness to hit at Ukraine’s heart since abandoning its wider offensive across the country to instead focus its efforts in the east.

In a posting on the Telegram app, the Russian Defense Ministry said high-precision, long-range air-launched missiles were used. It said the strikes destroyed on the outskirts of Kyiv destroyed T-72 tanks supplied by Eastern European countries and other armored vehicles located in buildings of a car-repair business.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24 has led to untold tens of thousands of civilian and troop deaths, driven millions from their homes, sparked vast sanctions against Putin’s government and allies, and strangled exports of critical wheat and other grains from Ukraine through Black Sea ports — limiting access to bread and other products in Africa, the Middle East and beyond.

In a television interview on Sunday, Putin lashed out at Western deliveries of weapons to Ukraine, saying they aim to prolong the conflict.

“All this fuss around additional deliveries of weapons, in my opinion, has only one goal: To drag out the armed conflict as much as possible,” Putin said, alluding to U.S. plans to supply multiple launch rocket systems to Kyiv. He insisted such supplies were unlikely to change much for the Ukrainian government, which he said was merely making up for losses of rockets of similar range that they already had.

If Kyiv gets longer-range rockets, he added, Moscow will “draw appropriate conclusions and use our means of destruction, which we have plenty of, in order to strike at those objects that we haven’t yet struck.”

The missiles hit Kyiv’s Darnytski and Dniprovski districts, Mayor Vitali Klitschko said on the Telegram messaging app, punctuating the Kremlin’s recently reduced goal of seizing the entire Donbas. Moscow-backed separatists have fought Ukrainian forces for eight years in the Donbas and established self-proclaimed republics.

In recent days, Russian forces have focused on capturing the city of Sievierodonetsk.

A billowing pillar of smoke filled the air with an acrid odor in Kyiv’s eastern Darnystki district, and the charred, blackened wreckage of a warehouse-type structure was smoldering. Police near the site told an Associated Press reporter that military authorities had banned the taking of images. Soldiers also blocked off a road in a nearby area leading toward a large railway yard.

The sites struck included facilities for the state rail company, Ukrzaliznytsia, said Serhiy Leshchenko, an adviser in President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s office, on Telegram. The cruise missiles appeared to have been launched from a Tu-95 bomber flying over the Caspian Sea, the Air Force Command said on Facebook. It said air defense units shot down one missile.

Energoatom said one cruise missile came dangerously close to the Pivdennoukrainsk nuclear power plant. It said the missile “flew critically low” and that Russian forces “still do not understand that even the smallest fragment of a missile that can hit a working power unit can cause a nuclear catastrophe and radiation leak.”

Elsewhere, Russian forces continued their push to take ground in eastern Ukraine, with missile and airstrikes carried out on cities and villages of the Luhansk region, with the war now past the 100-day mark.

Luhansk governor Serhiy Haidai said on Telegram that “airstrikes by Russian Ka-52 helicopters were carried out in the areas of Girske and Myrna Dolyna, by Su-25 aircraft – on Ustynivka,” while Lysychansk was hit by a missile from the Tochka-U complex.

A total of 13 houses were damaged in Girske, and five in Lysychansk. Another airstrike was reported in the eastern city of Kramatorsk by its mayor Oleksandr Goncharenko. No one was killed in the attack, he said, but two of the city’s enterprises sustained “significant damage.”

On Sunday morning, Ukraine’s General Staff accused Russian forces of using phosphorus munitions in the village of Cherkaski Tyshky in the Kharkiv region. The claim couldn’t be independently verified.

The update also confirmed strikes on Kyiv, which occurred in the early hours of Sunday. It wasn’t immediately clear from the statement which infrastructure facilities in Kyiv were hit.

The General Staff said Russian forces continue assault operations in Sievierodonetsk, one of two key cities left to be captured in the Luhansk region of the Donbas. The Russians control the eastern part of the city, the update said, and are focusing on trying to encircle Ukrainian forces in the area and “blocking off main logistical routes.”

The U.K. military said in its daily intelligence update that Ukrainian counterattacks in Sieverodonetsk were “likely blunting the operational momentum Russian forces previously gained through concentrating combat units and firepower.” Russian forces previously had been making a string of advances in the city, but Ukrainian fighters have pushed back in recent days.

The statement also said Russia’s military was partly relying on reserve forces of the separatists in the Luhansk region.

“These troops are poorly equipped and trained, and lack heavy equipment in comparison to regular Russian units,” the intelligence update said, adding that “this approach likely indicates a desire to limit casualties suffered by regular Russian forces.”

Far from the battlefield, Ukraine’s national soccer players are hoping to secure a World Cup spot when the team takes on Wales later Sunday in Cardiff.

On the diplomatic front, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov was heading to Serbia for talks with President Aleksandar Vucic early this week, followed by a visit to Turkey on Tuesday, where the Russian envoy is expected to discuss Ukraine with his Turkish counterpart.

Turkey has been trying to work with U.N. and the warring countries to help clear the way for Ukrainian grain to be exported to Turkish ports, though no deal on the issue appeared imminent.

A Ukrainian presidential adviser urged European nations to respond with “more sanctions, more weapons” to Sunday’s missile attacks.

Mykhailo Podolyak referenced remarks Friday by French President Emmanuel Macron, who said Putin had made a “historic error” by invading Ukraine, but that world powers shouldn’t “humiliate Russia” so that a diplomatic exit could be found when the fighting stops.

Ukrainian authorities said Ukraine and Russia had exchanged bodies of killed troops this week, in the first officially confirmed swap. Ukraine’s Ministry for Reintegration of Occupied Territories said Saturday each side had exchanged 160 bodies Thursday on the front line in the southern Zaporizhzhia region, parts of which are under Russian control. Russian officials haven’t commented on the exchange.

At the Vatican, Pope Francis made one of his strongest appeals for a cease-fire and peace negotiations in Ukraine, urging leaders: “Don’t bring the world to ruins, please. Don’t bring the world to ruins.” He made the plea during his traditional Sunday blessing from a window overlooking St. Peter’s Square, asking leaders to hear “the desperate cries of the people who suffer” more than 100 days after the Russian invasion.

___

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

John Leicester, The Associated Press

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