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Ukrainian civilians vanish and languish in Russian-run jails



Ukrainian civilians vanish and languish in Russian-run jails

 Alina Kapatsyna often dreams about getting a phone call from her mother. In those visions, her mother tells her that she’s coming home.
Men in military uniforms took 45-year-old Vita Hannych away from her house in eastern Ukraine in April. She never returned.

Her family later learned that Hannych, who has long suffered from seizures because of a brain cyst, is in custody in the Russian-occupied part of the Donetsk region.

Kapatsyna told The Associated Press that it remains unclear why her mother — ”a peaceful, civilian and sick person” who has never held a weapon — was detained.

Hannych is one of many Ukrainian noncombatants being held by Russian forces for months following their invasion.

Some are deemed to be prisoners of war, even though they never took part in the fighting. Others are in a sort of legal limbo — not facing any criminal charges or considered to be POWs. Ukrainian estimates of how many there are range from hundreds to many thousands.

Hannych was wearing only a sweatsuit and slippers when she was seized by Russian forces occupying her village of Volodymyrivka several weeks into the Feb. 24 invasion. It is still under Moscow’s control.

Her family initially thought she would come home shortly. Russian forces were known to detain people for two or three days for “filtration” and then release them, Kapatsyna said, and Hannych had no military or law enforcement connections.

When she wasn’t released, Kapatsyna and her 64-year-old grandmother started a search. At first, letters and visits to various Russian-installed officials and government bodies in the Donetsk region yielded no results.

“The answers from everywhere were the same: ‘We did not take her away.’ Who took her then, if no one took her?” said Kapatsyna, who left the village in March for the Ukrainian-controlled city of Dnipro.

Then, they finally got some clarity: Hannych was jailed in Olenivka, another Russian-controlled city, according to a letter from the Moscow-installed prosecutor’s office in the Donetsk region.

The jail staff told Kapatsyna’s grandmother that Hannych was a sniper, allegations her family deems absurd, given her condition. Medical records seen by the AP confirmed that she had a brain cyst, as well as “residual encephalopathy” and “general convulsive attacks.”

Anna Vorosheva, who spent 100 days in the same facility as Hannych, recounted squalid, inhumane conditions: putrid drinking water, no heat or showers, having to sleep in shifts and hearing new prisoners screaming from being beaten.

Vorosheva, 46, said she wasn’t told why she was detained, aside from “smirks and jokes about Nazis” — a reference to Russia’s false claims that what it calls its “special military operation” was a campaign to “denazify” Ukraine. She also said the staff told her: “Be happy we’re not beating you.”

Donetsk authorities labeled Hannych a POW and recently told the family she is imprisoned in the occupied city of Mariupol. It remains unclear when, if at all, she could be released.

Ukraine’s top human rights organization, Center for Civil Liberties, has requests concerning around 900 civilians captured by Russia since the war began, with more than half still in custody.

Dmytro Lubinets, Ukraine’s human rights envoy, put the number even higher and said Friday that his office received inquiries concerning more than 20,000 “civilian hostages” detained by Russia.

Russian lawyer Leonid Solovyov told the AP he has amassed more than 100 requests concerning Ukrainian civilians. He said he was able to help 30-40 confirm the person they looked for was in Russian custody without any legal status — just like his client, Mykyta Shkriabin.

The student from northeastern Ukraine’s Kharkiv region was detained by Russia’s military in March and has been held ever since without charges or any legal proceedings.
Shkriabin, then 19, was sheltering from the fighting in a basement with his family, according to his mother, Tetiana. During a break, he went out for supplies — and never returned.

Tetiana Shkriabina told the AP that she learned from witnesses that Russian soldiers seized him.

Months later, Solovyov got confirmation from Russia’s Defense Ministry that Shkriabin was detained for “resisting the special military operation.” There is no such offense on the books in Russia, Solovyov said, and even if there was, Shkriabin would have been formally charged and investigated, but that hasn’t happened. The ministry refused to disclose his whereabouts.

Moreover, when Solovyov filed a complaint to Russia’s Investigative Committee contesting the detention, it confirmed that there are no criminal probes opened against Shkriabin, that he is neither a suspect, nor an accused.

Shkriabin, who turned 20 in captivity, hasn’t been labeled a POW, the lawyer said, adding: “His legal status is simply a hostage.”

Russia’s Defense Ministry and the Interior Ministry didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Other cases are eerily similar to those of Shkriabin and Hannych.

In May, Russian forces detained information technology specialist Iryna Horobtsova in the southern city of Kherson when it was occupied by Moscow. They raided her apartment, seizing a laptop, two cellphones and several flash drives, and then took her away, according to her sister, Elena Kornii. They promised her parents that she would be home that evening — but it didn’t happen.

Horobtsova remained in the city and spoke out against the war on social media before she was detained, Kornii said. She had attended anti-Russia protests and also helped residents by driving them to work or finding scarce medications.

“She hasn’t violated any Ukrainian laws,” Kornii said, noting that her sister had nothing to do with the military.

Horobtsova’s lawyer, Emil Kurbedinov, said he believed that Russian security forces were carrying out “purges of the disloyal” in Kherson.

He learned from Russia’s Federal Security Service, or FSB, that she was still in custody. The Interior Ministry in Moscow-annexed Crimea told him that Horobtsova was in a detention center there. When Kurbedinov tried to visit her, officials refused to acknowledge having any such prisoner.

As for why she was held, the lawyer said authorities told him that “she resisted the special military operation, and a decision regarding her will be made when the special military operation is over.”

He described her as “unlawfully imprisoned.”

Dmytro Orlov, mayor of the occupied city of Enerhodar in the Zaporizhzhia region, describes the fate of his deputy the same way — “an absolutely arbitrary detention.”

Ivan Samoydyuk was picked up by Russian soldiers shortly after they seized the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant in March, and no charges have been filed against him, Orlov said.

“We’re not even sure if he’s alive!” the mayor said. “If we can’t get clarity from the Russians about the fate of a deputy mayor, imagine the fate of ordinary Ukrainian civilians.”

Mykhailo Savva of the Expert Council of the Center for Civil Liberties said the Geneva Conventions allow a state to detain civilians temporarily in occupied areas, but “as soon as the reason that caused the detention of this civilian disappears, then this person must be released.”

“No special conditions, no trades, just release,” Savva said, noting that civilians can’t be declared POWs under international law.

International law prohibits a warring party from forcibly moving a civilian to its own territory or territory it occupies, and doing so could be deemed a war crime, said Yulia Gorbunova, a senior researcher with Human Rights Watch.

POWs can be exchanged, but there is no legal mechanism for swapping noncombatants, Gorbunova said, complicating efforts to free civilians from captivity.

Since the war began, however, Kyiv has been able to bring some home. Andriy Yermak, the head of Ukraine’s presidential office, said on Jan. 8 that 132 civilians were brought back from Russian captivity in 2022.

Lubinets, the Ukrainian human rights ombudsman, met this month with his Russian counterpart, Tatyana Moskalkova.

He said he gave Moskalkova lists of some of the 20,000 Ukrainian civilians he said were held by Russia, and “the Russian side agreed to find out where they are, in what condition and why they are being held.”

After getting such information, the question “of the procedure for their return” will be raised, Lubinets said.


India stops visa processing in Canada as diplomatic row intensifies




India stops visa processing in Canada as diplomatic row intensifies

 India on Thursday suspended the issuing of visas in Canada, the service provider said, amid a diplomatic row sparked by Ottowa’s accusation New Delhi was involved in the killing of a Sikh separatist near Vancouver.

“Important notice from Indian mission: Due to operational reasons, with effect from September 21, 2023, Indian visa services have been suspended till further notice,” BLS International posted on their website on Thursday.

Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has demanded India treat with “utmost seriousness” allegations that Indian agents played a role in the June murder of Hardeep Singh Nijjar.

The fallout prompted tit-for-tat diplomatic expulsions and a forceful denial from India, which said any suggestion it played a role in Nijjar’s killing was “absurd”.


The suspension of visas comes a day after India’s foreign ministry said it was concerned for the safety of its citizens in Canada because of “politically-condoned hate crimes and criminal violence”.

“Threats have particularly targeted Indian diplomats and sections of the Indian community who oppose the anti-India agenda,” a ministry statement said on Wednesday.

“Indian nationals are therefore advised to avoid travelling to regions and potential venues in Canada that have seen such incidents.”

The advisory did not name specific cities or locations for Indians to avoid.

Nijjar was shot dead by two masked assailants outside the Sikh temple he presided over in Surrey, an outer suburb of Vancouver.


An activist for the creation of a Sikh state known as Khalistan, Nijjar was wanted by Indian authorities for alleged terrorism and conspiracy to commit murder.

He had denied those charges, according to the World Sikh Organisation of Canada, a nonprofit organisation that says it defends the interests of Canadian Sikhs.

The Indian government accuses Ottawa of turning a blind eye to the activities of radical Sikh nationalists who advocate the creation of an independent Sikh state to be carved out of northern India.

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US Senate confirms Biden pick as top US military officer




US Senate confirms Biden pick as top US military officer

 A majority of the US Senate backed US Air Force chief General Charles Q. Brown on Wednesday to be the top US military officer, as lawmakers moved to confirm some of the top senior officers whose promotions have been stalled by a Republican senator’s blockade.

The Senate backed President Joe Biden’s nomination of Brown to be chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff by 83 to 11.

Brown is a former fighter pilot who brings command experience in the Pacific to the position at a time of rising tension with China.

He will be only the second Black officer to chair the Joint Chiefs after Colin Powell two decades ago.


The Senate moved ahead with votes on Brown and two other top military officers as Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat, used a procedural maneuver to sidestep a blockade by Republican Senator Tommy Tuberville.

Tuberville began blocking confirmations to senior Pentagon posts in March to protest a Defense Department policy enacted last year that provides paid leave and reimburses costs for service members who travel to get an abortion.

Brown and other military officials had said Tuberville’s blockade of hundreds of military promotions could have a far-reaching impact across the armed forces, affecting troops and their families and harming national security.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin congratulated Brown on his confirmation, thanked Schumer for bringing the vote and chastised Tuberville for his obstruction. “It is well past time to confirm the over 300 other military nominees,” Austin said in a statement.

Biden’s nomination of Brown, which was announced in May, followed his appointment of Austin as the first Black US secretary of defense, the top civilian position at the Pentagon.


Brown’s confirmation means Black Americans hold the top two positions at the Pentagon for the first time, a major milestone for an institution that is diverse in its lower ranks but largely white and male at the top.

Schumer also cleared the way for Senate votes on Biden’s nomination of General Randy George to become chief of staff of the Army, and General Eric Smith to become the next commandant of the Marine Corps.

Schumer’s procedural motion did not address hundreds of other military promotions still being delayed by Tuberville’s action.

The Senate’s approval of military promotions is usually smooth. Tuberville’s hold cannot prevent the Democratic-majority Senate from voting on any promotion, but it can drastically slow the process.

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Trump says if elected again he will send troops to US-Mexico border




Trump says if elected again he will send troops to US-Mexico border

Former US President Donald Trump said on Wednesday that if elected again he would shift resources from federal law enforcement agencies and send thousands of overseas-based troops to the US-Mexico border.

Speaking to supporters in Iowa, where the Republican Party’s first nominating contest for the November 2024 election will be held in January, Trump also promised to expand on a travel ban that barred people from several countries with majority Muslim populations during his 2017-2021 presidency.

Calling record illegal US-Mexico border crossings under President Joe Biden an “invasion,” Trump sought to place blame for the problem on the current administration. Biden, a Democrat, is running for re-election and could have a rematch election against the Republican front-runner Trump.

“Upon my inauguration I will immediately terminate every open borders policy of the Biden administration,” Trump said at a rally in Dubuque. “I’ll make clear that we must use any and all resources needed to stop the invasion, including moving thousands of troops currently stationed overseas.”


Trump provided few specifics, including on exactly how he planned to expand on any ban imposed on Muslim-majority countries. It was unclear if Trump would face any legal hurdles to implementing such measures.

The Biden administration has defended its border policies, saying it is using the tools available, while calling on Congress to pass laws to fix a broken system. Most people seeking to cross the southern US border come from Central American countries.

Trump’s rivals have stepped up their rhetoric on immigration in recent weeks, promising tough action on crossings at the US-Mexico border in a sign of the importance of the issue to Republican primary voters.

About one in six Republicans consider immigration as the most pressing issue facing the country, making it the third most important issue to them after the economy and crime, a Reuters/Ipsos poll this month showed.

Last week, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said in an interview with CBS’s Norah O’Donnell that if elected president he would send the military to the border and authorize the use of deadly force against members of drug cartels.


DeSantis is Trump’s top rival but remains some 40 percentage points behind him in opinion polls.

The Dubuque rally was one of two afternoon stops for Trump in Iowa on Wednesday. His campaign is scheduling a series of visits to the state in the coming weeks, as he seeks to fend off a push there by his primary rivals, some of whom have spent considerably more time and money in Iowa.

Trump was the only major candidate to skip the annual Faith and Freedom Coalition banquet in Des Moines over the weekend, missing a chance to connect with evangelicals, a critical voting bloc in the state.

His visit on Wednesday came as he confronted fresh criticism from conservatives for his stance on abortion, triggered by his Sunday appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” in which he declined to commit to national restrictions on the procedure and called DeSantis’ signing of a six-week ban a “terrible mistake.”

Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds, who is popular in her state, and DeSantis were among the Republicans to blast Trump’s remarks.


Trump told the crowd in Dubuque that they needed to “follow their heart” on abortion but warned that Republicans needed to “learn how to talk” about legislation in a way that doesn’t turn off voters. He said it was important to carve out exceptions for any ban for instances of rape, incest and the mother’s life.

“Without the exceptions, it is very difficult to win elections. We would probably lose the majorities in 2024 without the exceptions and perhaps the presidency itself,” he said.

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