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Many Residents Around War-ravaged Kyiv Are Going Back Home, but Risk of New Attacks Has Authorities Worried

Yesenia Harris

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From an elevated spot behind the sandbags near his home in northern Ukraine, Andreii Lopata could watch the Russian troops on the other side of the Irpin River and observe as they fired artillery strikes into his community.

He says he counted 240 hits in three weeks, which left the homes in his village splintered and their yards pockmarked with deep holes.

“In 1941, the Germans bombed us from [the same place], my grandmother said,” Lopata, 53, told CBC News. “They completely repeated the path of the Nazis — exactly the same fascists as came here in 1941, but [now] they are Russian.”

It’s only about a 25-minute drive from Lopata’s home in Irpin to downtown Kyiv, which is why the Irpin River and the town on its banks were such strategically significant points for Ukraine’s military to hold as Russian troops marched on the Ukrainian capital last month.

“I didn’t run away, so that my grandchildren wouldn’t say, ‘Grandfather ran away,'” said Lopata. “I took a weapon.”

Many of the homes in the Kyiv suburb of Irpin are too damaged to ever live in again. (Stephanie Jenzer/CBC)

A former Ukrainian air force sergeant, Lopata says since he knew how to fire a rifle, he helped out the soldiers from the territorial defence unit guarding the town. He claims he shot and killed at least one Russian soldier who came into his sights.

Lopata was one of the few people who remained in his village during the month of serious fighting. But with Russian forces now banished from the Kyiv region, more people are returning to try to restart their lives.

WATCH | Ukrainians try to rebuilt their communities, as the war moves east:

Russians regroup, Ukrainians rebuild as the war’s front lines move east

3 days ago

People in recently liberated parts of Ukraine near Kyiv are reconnecting their lives and links to the rest of the country, even as the front lines of Russia’s invasion moves east to the Donbas region.2:36

But they are doing so against the advice of Ukrainian authorities, who are urging those who left to continue to stay away.

Every indication is that Russia is poised to launch a new, large offensive in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region at any moment, and authorities in Kyiv and the surrounding areas remain on high alert. The offensive could come with renewed air strikes and security threats to the capital and its suburbs, and senior Ukrainian ministers warned Wednesday the capital region isn’t ready to have civilians return just yet.

‘We will see an offensive action’

Before the war, Kyiv had a population of almost three million, but most have since fled to safer parts in Western Ukraine or other European countries.

“We will see an offensive action that will include all aspects of [Russia’s] military — sea, sky and land,” said Emine Dzhepar, Ukraine’s deputy minister of foreign affairs, in an interview in her Kyiv headquarters. “There will be missiles, probably both ballistic and Kalibr [cruise] missiles, artillery, shelling, bombings and mines.”

Dzhepar believes “our military forces are strong enough” and that “this military operation will define the future of [peace] negotiations.”

Only a few minutes down the road from Irpin is Bucha, where war crimes prosecutors have been exhuming a mass grave behind a church. The town’s mayor said Tuesday that so far, the bodies of 403 civilians have been discovered. Many, if not most, appear to have been deliberately shot or killed by Russian forces.

Ukrainian servicemen pose for a picture near a destroyed bridge in Irpin on April 1. (Gleb Garanich/Reuters)

On March 30, Irpin’s mayor, Oleksandr Markushyn, said the casualty count for his city is likely lower than Bucha’s — but not by much. Markushyn suggested between 200 and 300 civilians were killed when Russia tried to seize the city.

A daily analysis of the conflict by the Washington, D.C.-based Institute for the Study of War said Russia is working rapidly to try to “reconstitute” its forces that retreated from the Kyiv area after the failed attack.

Ukraine claims Russia has lost nearly 20,000 soldiers and hundreds of tanks since its invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, although Western analysts say the real number is likely closer to half of that.

Nonetheless, Russia could still bring a massive force to bear on Eastern Ukraine.

‘It’s all just pain’

Ukraine’s best and most seasoned troops have heavily fortified themselves in key positions around cities such as Donetsk.

According to the Institute for the Study of War’s analysis, Russia is expected to try to use its advantage with tanks and mechanized infantry to try to encircle a huge number of those troops, to force the Ukrainians to leave their trenches and bunkers to escape.

Many in the Kyiv area fear Russia may not be done with the capital just yet, and could attempt another offensive against Kyiv depending on what happens in Donbas.

Despite that possibility, some residents on the banks of the Irpin River whose homes survived the Russian onslaught have decided to try to piece their lives back together, in spite of the advice to stay away.

“I’m repairing my home as best I can,” said Irpin resident Victor Novyk, who is in his 50s. “It’s all just pain — it’s difficult in my soul.”

Viktor Novyk returned to his home in Irpin, but it currently has no gas, power or running water. To get water, he has to go to a well at the end of the road. (Stephanie Jenzer/CBC)

Novyk’s modest brick house on Novo-Irpinskya Street lost the glass in a few windows but was miraculously spared significant structural damage, unlike the homes of most of his neighbours.

He, his wife and his 83-year-old mother sheltered for more than two weeks in the basement of their home as Russian and Ukrainian troops fired artillery over their heads.

Eventually, Novyk’s family left to stay with friends, but returned home a few days ago, even though the restoration of electricity and running water likely remains weeks away.

Still, Novyk says his wife as already cleaned up the flower garden, where new tulips are about to bloom.

“We will slowly repair,” Victor Novyk said. “Who knows, maybe someone will help us.”

‘Most of the time we were in our basement’

A few doors down, Larysa Pasyeka, 48, greeted CBC with a huge smile, although looking at the damage around her property, it was clear she was lucky just to be alive.

Larysa Pasyeka survived Russian shelling and is back in her Irpin neighbourhood. (Stephanie Jenzer/CBC)

She said an artillery strike landed in her backyard and demolished the wooden building that housed her sauna, or banya. Next door, another huge round hit her neighbours’ home, killing the two people inside.

“Most of the time we were in our basement,” Pasyeka said. “But there were some peaceful moments when we could come up to the yard and make soup for the [Ukrainian] soldiers.”

Earlier this week, before authorities had issued their warning to stay away from the region, construction crews finished building a temporary bridge across the Irpin River to replace one that had to be destroyed by Ukraine’s military to halt the Russian advance.

At the peak of the battle, there were heart-wrenching scenes of residents trying to evacuate Irpin by crawling over the debris of the bridge.

People cross the Irpin River next to a destroyed bridge as they evacuate from the town on March 10. (Valentyn Ogirenko/Reuters)

With a new crossing in place, it will be much easier for people to cross the river to return to homes on the other side — once authorities give the green light.

Andriy Levchenko, the national guardsman in charge of restoring the crossing, says getting the traffic moving again will help people cope with the stress of the conflict.

Construction crews finish up building a new temporary bridge over the Irpin River. (Stephanie Jenzer/CBC)

“In this town, there are a lot of peaceful, normal, young, promising people who would like to live normal lives and they need to be able to go back to their houses,” he said.

“This temporary bridge is one of the first beams of light out of a dark tunnel, and it’s very important for every Ukrainian.”

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Russia Launches Fresh Offensive, Wants Sanctions Relief to Free up Ukraine Food Supply Routes

Yesenia Harris

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Updates from Day 91 of the invasion

Severodonetsk remains under attack in the east, Ukraine officials say.

Zelenksy addresses Davos gathering, repeats willingness to negotiate with Russia.

Russia wants sanctions relief in exchange for access to food supply corridors.

Russia to eliminate upper age limit for military service.

U.S. won’t extend waiver that has allowed Russia to keep up with debt payments.

Russian forces launched offensives on towns in eastern Ukraine on Wednesday, with constant mortar bombardment destroying several houses and killing civilians, Ukrainian officials said, as Russia focuses its attack on the industrial Donbas region.

Russia has been focused on attempting to seize the separatist-claimed Donbas’s two provinces, Donetsk and Luhansk, and trap Ukrainian forces in a pocket on the main eastern front, according to Ukrainian officials.

In the easternmost part of the Ukrainian-held Donbas pocket, the city of Severodonetsk on the east bank of the Siverskiy Donets River and its twin Lysychansk, on the west bank, have become a pivotal battlefield. Russian forces were advancing from three directions to encircle them.

President Volodymyr Zelensky’s office said Russian forces launched an offensive on Severodonetsk early on Wednesday and the town was under constant fire from mortars.

Luhansk regional governor Serhiy Gaidai said six civilians were killed and at least eight wounded, most near bomb shelters, in Severodonetsk.

Smoke rises above a weapon manned by pro-Russian troops toward the direction of Severodonetsk on Tuesday in the Luhansk region of Ukraine. (Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters)

“At the moment, with the support of artillery, the Russian occupiers are attacking Severodonetsk,” Gaidai said.

Ukraine’s military said it had repelled nine Russian attacks on Tuesday in the Donbas, where Moscow’s troops had killed at least 14 civilians, using aircraft, rocket launchers, artillery, tanks, mortars and missiles.

WATCH | Russian troops would have to know some orders are unlawful: expert:

Expect dozens more war crimes trials to come due to Russia-Ukraine war, expert says

23 hours ago

Targeting unarmed civilians during war is ‘always criminal’ said Michael Newton, a law professor and former U.S. State Department official. There are dozens more war crimes trials to come out of the war between Ukraine and Russia, he said.

Reuters could not immediately verify information about the fighting.

The Donbas fighting follows Russia’s biggest victory in months: the surrender last week of Ukraine’s garrison in the port of Mariupol after a siege in which Kyiv believes tens of thousands of civilians were killed.

Three months into the invasion, Russia still has only limited gains to show for its worst military loss in decades, while much of Ukraine has suffered devastation in the biggest attack on a European state since 1945.

Zelensky said Wednesday that Russia must pull back to its prewar positions as a first step before diplomatic talks, a negotiating line that Moscow is unlikely to agree to anytime soon.

Speaking by video link to attendees at this year’s World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Zelensky expressed a willingness to negotiate with Russian President Vladimir Putin directly, but stressed that Moscow needs to make clear it, too, is ready to “shift from the bloody war to diplomacy.”

“[Diplomacy is] possible if Russia shows at least something. When I say at least something, I mean pulling back troops to where they were before Feb. 24,” Zelensky said, referring to the day Russia’s invasion began. “I believe it would be a correct step for Russia to make.”

Grain, food exports remain blocked

The war has also caused growing food shortages and soaring prices due to sanctions and disruption of supply chains. Both Ukraine and Russia are major exporters of grain and other commodities.

Russia said it was ready to provide a humanitarian corridor for vessels carrying food to leave Ukraine, in return for the lifting of some sanctions, the Interfax news agency cited Deputy Foreign Minister Andrei Rudenko as saying on Wednesday.

Ukraine’s Black Sea ports have been blocked since Russia sent thousands of troops into Ukraine on Feb. 24, and more than 20 million tonnes of grain are stuck in silos in the country.

WATCH | Recriminations, but few solutions so far to free up food supply routes:

Ukraine war deepens global food crisis

17 hours ago

The impact of the Ukraine war extends far beyond the country’s borders as Russian forces have destroyed crops and blockaded ports along the Black Sea, affecting the food supply in Africa and the Middle East.

Russia and Ukraine account for nearly a third of global wheat supplies, and the lack of significant grain exports from Ukraine ports is contributing to a growing global food crisis.

Ukraine is also a major exporter of corn and sunflower oil.

Western powers have been discussing the idea of setting up “safe corridors” for grain exports from Ukraine’s ports, adding that any such corridor would need Russian consent.

“We have repeatedly stated on this point that a solution to the food problem requires a comprehensive approach, including the lifting of sanctions that have been imposed on Russian exports and financial transactions,” Rudenko was quoted as saying.

“And it also requires the demining by the Ukrainian side of all ports where ships are anchored. Russia is ready to provide the necessary humanitarian passage, which it does every day,” he said.

Russia and Ukraine accuse each other of planting drifting mines in the Black Sea.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on Tuesday that Russia was using food supplies as a weapon with global repercussions.

“We are always ready for dialogue with all those who seek … peaceful resolution of all problems. I leave Ursula von der Leyen’s statement to her conscience,” Rudenko said.

He said that Russia would discuss the possibility exchanging prisoners with Ukraine once those who surrendered had been convicted. Russian and separatist officials have said some of those who surrendered should be tried for war crimes.

British military authorities say Ukraine’s overland export routes are “highly unlikely” to offset the problems caused by Russia’s blockade of the Black Sea port of Odesa.

The U.K. Ministry of Defence, in an update posted Wednesday morning, says there has been no “significant” merchant shipping in or out of Odesa since the start of the Russian invasion.

WATCH | Canada sends more military aid to Ukraine:

Canada is sending almost $100M in military aid to Ukraine

21 hours ago

Defence Minister Anita Anand announced that the federal government is set to send Canada’s biggest single donation of military equipment to Ukraine since the start of Russia’s invasion.

The ministry says that the blockade, combined with the lack of overland routes, means that significant supplies of grain remain in storage and can’t be exported.

“While the threat of Russia’s naval blockade continues to deter access by commercial shipping to Ukrainian ports, the resulting supply shortfalls will further increase the price of many staple products,” the ministry said.

Russia could be squeezed by U.S. move on debt

The U.S. announced early Wednesday it would not extend a waiver set to expire on Wednesday that enabled Russia to bondholders.

The Treasury Department said on its website late on Tuesday it would not extend the waiver, set to expire Wednesday, which allowed Russia to make interest and maturity payments on its sovereign debt.

A boy plays in front of houses ruined by shelling in Borodyanka, Ukraine, Tuesday, near Kyiv. While the Russian military has largely abandoned that region at present, the damage from the earliest days of the invasion is apparent. (Natacha Pisarenko/The Associated Press)

That waiver has allowed Russia to keep up government debt payments, but its expiry now appears to make default inevitable — the country’s first major one on international sovereign bonds in more than a century.

Almost $2 billion US worth of payments on Russian international bonds fall due before year-end.

Unlike in most default situations, Moscow is not short of money. Russia’s debt repayment dues pale in comparison to its oil and gas revenues, which stood at $28 billion in April alone thanks to high energy prices.

The Russian Finance Ministry said it will pay in rubles and offer “the opportunity for subsequent conversion into the original currency,” but that could be viewed by foreign investors as a default.

Russia to amend military service age rules

Russia’s parliament approved a law on Wednesday removing the upper age limit for contractual service in the military, amid heavy casualties in Ukraine. The bill now needs only the signature of Putin to become law.

Currently, only Russians aged 18-40 and foreigners aged 18-30 can enlist as professional soldiers in the Russian military.

Russia’s defence ministry said on March 25 that 1,351 service personnel had been killed and 3,825 wounded since Moscow sent its armed forces into Ukraine on Feb. 24. It has not updated its casualty figures since.

Both Ukrainian and Western intelligence officials have said Russia’s losses in Ukraine were significantly higher at the time, and have risen sharply since March.

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Original Post: cbc.ca

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Earth’s Oceans Were the Hottest, Most Acidic on Record in 2021, UN Report Finds

Yesenia Harris

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The world’s oceans grew to their warmest and most acidic levels on record last year, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said on Wednesday, as United Nations officials warned that war in Ukraine threatened global climate commitments.

Oceans saw the most striking extremes as the WMO detailed a range of turmoil wrought by climate change in its annual State of the Global Climate report. It said melting ice sheets had helped push sea levels to new heights in 2021.

“Our climate is changing before our eyes. The heat trapped by human-induced greenhouse gases will warm the planet for many generations to come,” said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas in a statement.

The report follows the latest UN climate assessment, which warned that humanity must drastically cut its greenhouse gas emissions or face increasingly catastrophic changes to the world’s climate.

The world’s oceans are the most acidic in at least 26,000 years, the UN agency said. (J. Sumerling/Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority via Associated Press)

Taalas told reporters there was scant airtime for climate challenges as other crises, such as the COVID-19 pandemic and war in Ukraine, grabbed headlines.

Selwin Hart, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’s special adviser on climate action, criticized countries reneging on climate commitments due to the conflict, which has pushed up energy prices and prompted European nations to seek to replace Russia as an energy supplier.

“We are … seeing many choices being made by many major economies which, quite frankly, have the potential to lock in a high-carbon, high-polluting future and will place our climate goals at risk,” Hart told reporters.

On Tuesday, global equity index giant MSCI warned that the world faces a dangerous increase in greenhouse gases if Russian gas is replaced with coal.

The WMO report said levels of climate-warming carbon dioxide and methane in the atmosphere in 2021 surpassed previous records.

Globally, the average temperature last year was 1.11 C above the preindustrial average — as the world edges closer to the 1.5 C threshold beyond which the effects of warming are expected to become drastic.

“It is just a matter of time before we see another warmest year on record,” Taalas said.

Oceans bear much of the brunt of the warming and emissions. The bodies of water absorb around 90 per cent of the Earth’s accumulated heat and 23 per cent of the carbon dioxide emissions from human activity.

The ocean has warmed markedly faster in the last 20 years, hitting a new high in 2021, and is expected to become even warmer, the report said. That change would likely take centuries or millennia to reverse, it noted.

The ocean is also now its most acidic in at least 26,000 years as it absorbs and reacts with more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Sea level has risen 4.5 centimetres in the last decade, with the annual increase from 2013 to 2021 more than double what it was from 1993 to 2002.

The WMO also listed individual extreme heat waves, wildfires, floods and other climate-linked disasters around the world, noting reports of more than $100 billion in damages.

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NASA’s Mars InSight Mission Coming to an End As Dust Covers Solar Panels

Yesenia Harris

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A NASA spacecraft on Mars is headed for a dusty demise.

The Insight lander is losing power because of all the dust on its solar panels. NASA said Tuesday it will keep using the spacecraft’s seismometer to register marsquakes until the power peters out, likely in July. Then flight controllers will monitor InSight until the end of this year, before calling everything off.

“There really hasn’t been too much doom and gloom on the team. We’re really still focused on operating the spacecraft,” said Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Bruce Banerdt, the principal scientist.

Since landing on Mars in 2018, InSight has detected more than 1,300 marsquakes; the biggest one, a magnitude 5, occurred two weeks ago.

It will be NASA’s second Mars lander lost to dust: A global dust storm took out Opportunity in 2018. In InSight’s case, it’s been a gradual gathering of dust, especially over the past year.

NASA’s two other functioning spacecraft on the Martian surface — rovers Curiosity and Perseverance — are still going strong thanks to nuclear power.

The space agency may rethink solar power in the future for Mars, said planetary science director Lori Glaze, or at least experiment with new panel-clearing tech or aim for the less-stormy seasons.

InSight currently is generating one-tenth of the power from the sun that it did upon arrival.

Deputy project manager Kathya Zamora Garcia said the lander initially had enough power to run an electric oven for one hour and 40 minutes; now it’s down to 10 minutes max.

The InSight team anticipated this much dust buildup, but hoped a gust of wind or a dust devil might clean off the solar panels. That has yet to happen, despite several thousand whirlwinds coming close.

“None of them have quite hit us dead-on yet enough to blow the dust off the panels,” Banerdt told reporters.

Another science instrument, dubbed the mole, was supposed to burrow five metres underground to measure the internal temperature of Mars. But the German digger never got deeper than a half-metre because of the unexpected composition of the red dirt, and it finally was declared dead at the beginning of last year.

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