‘A Huge Demand’: Ukrainian Women Train to Clear Landmines

Learning to identify and defuse explosives is something Anastasiia Minchukova never thought she would have to do as an English teacher in Ukraine. Yet there she was wearing a face shield, armed with a landmine detector and venturing into a field dotted with danger warnings.

Russia’s war in Ukraine took Minchukova, 20, and five other women to Kosovo, where they are attending a hands-on course in clearing landmines and other dangers that may remain hidden across their country once combat ends.

“There is a huge demand on people who know how to do demining because the war will be over soon,” Minchukova said. “We believe there is so much work to be done.”

The 18-day training camp takes place at a range in the western town of Peja where a Malta-based company regularly offers courses for job-seekers, firms working in former war zones, humanitarian organizations and government agencies.

Kosovo was the site of a devastating 1998-99 armed conflict between ethnic Albanian separatists and Serbian forces that killed about 13,000 people and left thousands of unexploded mines in need of clearing. Praedium Consulting Malta’s range includes bombed and derelict buildings as well as expanses of vegetation.

Instructor Artur Tigani, who tailored the curriculum to reflect Ukraine’s environment, said he was glad to share his small Balkan nation’s experience with the Ukrainian women. Though 23 years have passed, “it’s still fresh in our memories, the difficulties we met when we started clearance in Kosovo,” Tigani said.

Tigani is a highly trained and experienced mine operations officer who served as an engineer in the former Yugoslav army during the 1980s. He has been deployed in his native Kosovo, Sri Lanka, Uganda, Congo, Rwanda and Kenya, and conducted training missions in Syria and Iraq.

During a class last week, he took his trainees through a makeshift minefield before moving to an improvised outdoor classroom featuring a huge board with various samples of explosives and mines.

While it is impossible to assess how littered with mines and unexploded ordnance Ukraine is at the moment, the aftermaths of other conflicts suggest the problem will be huge.

“In many parts of the world, explosive remnants of war continue to kill and maim thousands of civilians each year during and long after active hostilities have ended. The majority of victims are children,” the International Committee of the Red Cross testified at a December U.N. conference.

“Locating (unexploded ordnance) in the midst of rubble and picking them out from among a wide array of everyday objects, many of which are made of similar material is a dangerous, onerous and often extremely time-consuming task,” the Red Cross said.

Mine Action Review, a Norwegian organization that monitors clearance efforts worldwide, reported that 56 countries were contaminated with unexploded ordnance as of October, with Afghanistan, Cambodia and Iraq carrying the heaviest burdens, followed by Angola, Bosnia, Thailand, Turkey and Yemen.

Thousands of civilians are believed to have died in Ukraine since Russia invaded Feb. 24. Russian forces have bombed cities and towns across the country, reducing many to rubble.

Military analysts say it appears Russian forces have employed anti-personnel and anti-vehicle mines, while Ukraine has used anti-tank mines to try to prevent the Russians from gaining ground.

With Ukrainian men from 18 to 60 years old prohibited from leaving their country and most engaged in defending it, the women wanted to help any way they could despite the risks involved in mine clearing.

“It’s dangerous all over Ukraine, even if you are in a relatively safe region,” said Minchukova, who is from central Ukraine.

Another Ukrainian student, Yuliia Katelik, 38, took her three children to safety in Poland early in the war. She went back to Ukraine and then joined the demining training to help make sure it’s safe for her children when they return home to the eastern city of Kramatorsk, where a rocket attack on a crowded train station killed more than 50 people this month.

Katelik said her only wish is to reunite with her family and see “the end of this nightmare.” Knowing how to spot booby-traps that could shatter their lives again is a necessary skill, she said.

“Acutely, probably as a mother, I do understand that there is a problem and it’s quite serious, especially for the children,” Katelik said.

Minchukova, wearing military-style clothes, said she was doubtful that normal life, as they all knew it before the war, would ever fully return.

“What am I missing? Peace,” she said. “I’m dreaming about peace, about sleeping in my bed not worried about going to bomb shelters all the time. I miss the people I lost.”

The Kosovo training center plans to work with more groups of Ukrainian women, both in Peja and in Ukraine.

“We’re planning as well to go to Ukraine very soon and start with delivery of courses there, on the theater” of war, Tigani said.

У Запоріжжі у комендантську годину 1-2 травня частково не їздитимуть поїзди

Раніше про обмеження у русі поїздів у перші дні травня УЗ повідомила і щодо Одеси

Despite Payment, Investors Brace for Russia to Default

Prices for Russian credit default swaps — insurance contracts that protect an investor against a default — plunged sharply overnight after Moscow used its precious foreign currency reserves to make a last-minute debt payment Friday.

The cost for a five-year credit default swap on Russian debt was $5.84 million to protect $10 million in debt. That price was nearly half the one on Thursday, which at roughly $11 million for $10 million in debt protection was a signal that investors were certain of an eventual Russian default.

Russia used its foreign currency reserves sitting outside of the country to make the payment, backing down from the Kremlin’s earlier threats that it would use rubles to pay these obligations. In a statement, the Russia Finance Ministry did not say whether future payments would be made in rubles.

Despite the insurance contract plunge, investors remain largely convinced that Russia will eventually default on its debts for the first time since 1917. The major ratings agencies Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s have declared Russia is in “selective default” on its obligations.

Russia has been hit with extensive sanctions by the United States, the EU and others in response to its Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine and its continuing military operation to take over Ukrainian territory.

The Credit Default Determination Committee — an industry group of 14 banks and investors that determines whether to pay on these swaps — said Friday that they “continue to monitor the situation” after Russia’s payment. Their next meeting is May 3.

At the beginning of April, Russia’s finance ministry said it tried to make a $649 million payment due April 6 toward two bonds to an unnamed U.S. bank — previously reported as JPMorgan Chase.

At that time, tightened sanctions imposed for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine prevented the payment from being accepted, so Moscow attempted to make the debt payment in rubles. The Kremlin, which repeatedly said it was financially able and willing to continue to pay on its debts, had argued that extraordinary events gave them the legal footing to pay in rubles, instead of dollars or euros.

Investors and rating agencies, however, disagreed and did not expect Russia to be able to convert the rubles into dollars before a 30-day grace period expired next week.

Remembering Havel, Czechs Feel Moral Responsibility to Help Ukraine

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has driven home the importance of NATO and the European Union for many of their newest members, according to Czech Foreign Minister Jan Lipavsky, who was in Washington this week for the funeral of Czech emigre and former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

“The reason we joined these two organizations is that it won’t happen to us,” Lipavsky, said at an event hosted by the Atlantic Council.

The fact that Ukraine did not manage to enter the two Western institutions “created a gray zone” that Russian President Vladimir Putin exploited, said Lipavsky, who had discussed the challenge facing Ukraine, among other topics, in an interview with VOA earlier in the day.

The people of Ukraine “want to be part of the Western society, they want democratic elections, they want freedom of speech,” and they want to enjoy the prosperity that comes with them, he said. “I feel our moral responsibility to help them.”

Lipavsky is part of a newly sworn-in coalition government comprising both conservatives and progressives. Led by Prime Minister Petr Fiala, the new Czech administration is expected to pursue an internationalist foreign policy that promotes democracy and human rights, harkening back to an era when the country was led by playwright-turned political leader Vaclav Havel.

On his limited itinerary in Washington, Lipavsky paid tribute to Havel, who is memorialized in what is known as the “Freedom Foyer” of the U.S. Capitol’s Statuary Hall. There, his bust sits in close proximity to those of Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln and George Washington.

Lipavsky gifted his American hosts with a collection of Havel photographs, including photos of Havel with Albright, who was born in then-Czechoslovakia and whose father was a member of the Czechoslovakian diplomatic corps.

 

The friendship between Havel and Albright was stressed by Lipavsky and other Czech dignitaries who came to Washington for the funeral. Among them were Czech senate president Milos Vystrcil, the senate foreign affairs committee chairman and three former ambassadors to the United States.

 

Albright is credited with having played a critical role in ushering the Czech Republic and other Central and Eastern European countries into NATO.

“Madeleine Albright made that possible, because she knew — she had suffered the consequences of policy failures, including American policy failures” in the 1930s and ’40s, said Daniel Fried, a former U.S. ambassador to Poland, at the Atlantic Council event alongside Lipavsky.

“Vaclav Havel, along with Poland’s Lech Walesa, pushed [then U.S. President] Bill Clinton on NATO enlargement,” Fried recalled. “One of their arguments was — I was around, I remember — ‘we have a window now to do it, don’t you Americans blow it!’ ”

Fried added that Havel and Walesa might not have “quite put it that way, but that was more or less their way, what they were saying.”

Speaking to VOA earlier by telephone, Fried took issue with widespread reports of “backsliding” on democratic governance in the former Soviet bloc countries of Central and Eastern Europe. “Except for Hungary,” he said, he sees the countries in the region “going back to their roots” of fighting for freedom and democracy.

Lipavsky, for his part, said he believes the countries of the region are attracted to the West by its “democratic identity.”

“This identity is built upon the vision that every person can pursue his and her own happiness, and you have very basic values like human rights, rights to own [property], rights to think, freedom of speech,” he said. “Baltics, Central and Eastern Europe, want to be part of that, is part of that.”

The Ukrainian people are “literally fighting and dying” for the very same choice, he said, and the Czech Republic will do its utmost to help them to prevail against Russia and become a member of the club of like-minded nations that is the EU.

Сервіси онлайн-продажу залізничних квитків знову запрацювали – «Укрзалізниця»

Перевізник пояснював, що продаж е-квитків на поїзди та роботу сервісів онлайн-підтримки й гарячої лінії «Укрзалізниці» призупиняли через «невідкладні технічні роботи»

Ukraine Slows Russian Advance in East, South as Talks in Doubt

The continuation of negotiations to end Russia’s war against Ukraine is in doubt, with Ukraine’s president saying it is hard to discuss peace amid public anger over alleged atrocities carried out by Russian troops, while Russia’s foreign minister said Western sanctions and arms shipments were impeding the talks, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported.  

 

Ukrainian forces fought Saturday to counter a Russian advance in their country’s south and east, where the Kremlin is seeking to capture the industrial Donbas region. Western military analysts said Moscow’s offensive was going much slower than planned.

While Russia claimed on Saturday to have struck more than 380 targets overnight as it sought to take full control of the territories of Luhansk and Donetsk in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region, the General Staff of Ukraine’s Armed Forces said the Russian military’s efforts to capture targets were “not succeeding — the fighting continues.” Ukraine’s second-largest city, Kharkiv, reportedly was targeted by mortar and artillery shelling Saturday.  

 

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in a televised address Friday night that Ukrainian forces had recaptured a strategically important village near the city and evacuated hundreds of civilians.  

 

RFE/RL reported that in a daily briefing Saturday, the Ukrainian military said the greatest enemy losses were taking place in the Izyum area, near Kharkiv.

 

Appeals in Rome

 

Meanwhile, the United Nations continued working to negotiate the evacuation of civilians from the increasingly hellish ruins of Mariupol, the southern port city that Russia has sought to capture since it invaded Ukraine more than nine weeks ago.  

 

Two Ukrainian women whose husbands are defending the besieged Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol were in Rome on Friday, calling for any evacuation of civilians to also include an estimated 2,000 soldiers holed up in the plant, the last stronghold of Ukrainian resistance in the strategic and now bombed-out port city. They cited fears the troops would be tortured and killed if left behind and captured by Russian forces.  

 

“The lives of soldiers matter, too. We can’t only talk about civilians,” said Yuliia Fedusiuk, the wife of Arseniy Fedusiuk, a member of the Azov Regiment in Mariupol; she was joined by Kateryna Prokopenko, whose husband Denys Prokopenko, is the Azov commander.  

 

“We are hoping that we can rescue soldiers, too, not only dead, not only injured, but all of them,” Fedusiuk said.

 

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told Saudi-owned Al Arabiya Television there was no need for anybody to provide help to open up humanitarian corridors out of Ukraine’s besieged cities.  

 

“We appreciate the interest of the [U.N.] secretary-general to be helpful,” he added. “[We have] explained … what is the mechanism for them to monitor how the humanitarian corridors are announced.”

 

Lavrov also accused the West of being “Russia phobic,” and he complained that his country never lived a day without being subject to sanctions by the West.  

 

“So … to believe that this latest wave of sanctions is going to make Russia cry ‘Uncle’ and to beg for being pardoned, those planners are lousy, and of course, they don’t know anything about [the] foreign policy of Russia and they don’t know anything about how to deal with Russia,” Lavrov said.

White House Correspondents Dinner Returns, With Biden Headlining

U.S. President Joe Biden will resume a Washington tradition by speaking at the White House Correspondents Association dinner on Saturday night, the first president to speak at the annual event since 2016.

After being canceled for two years due to COVID-19 pandemic and boycotted by Donald Trump during his presidency, the event returns with gusto this year, featuring remarks by comedian Trevor Noah.

More than 20 WHCA-related parties are being staged around Washington before and after the major event on Saturday night and several senior administration officials will attend as well as a smattering of celebrities from the entertainment world.

However, a recent rise in COVID-19 cases in Washington, in particular an outbreak at the journalists’ white-tie Gridiron dinner early in April, has brought an undercurrent of caution to the White House dinner.

Organizers are requiring every attendee be tested for the virus, and some top officials, including infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci, have dropped out.

The White House said Biden will take extra precautions at the event – skipping the dinner portion and attend only the speakers program, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Wednesday. He may opt to wear a mask when he is not speaking.

Asked what Biden will tell the crowd, Psaki said, “I will lower expectations and say it’s not funny at all.”

In recent weeks, the president has mostly been unmasked at crowded White House events, but those events had lower attendance than Saturday’s dinner, which is expected to seat about 2,600 journalists, Washington officials and celebrities.  

The White House Correspondents Association was founded in 1914 and has held a dinner nearly every year since the first one in 1921 to celebrate the reporters who cover the presidency and raise money for scholarships.