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Turkey earthquake live updates: At least 1,200 dead in Turkey, Syria after powerful quake

RAMI AL SAYED/AFP via Getty Images

(NEW YORK) -- More than 1,200 people are dead after a 7.8 magnitude earthquake rocked southeastern Turkey and northern Syria early Monday, officials said.

The pre-dawn quake was centered in the town of Pazarcik in Turkey's southeastern Kahramanmaras province and was followed by several powerful aftershocks. Thousands of buildings were toppled on both sides of the border, and the death toll was expected to rise as rescue workers searched for survivors in the massive piles of rubble.

Both Turkey and Syria have declared a state of emergency.

Here's how the news is developing. All times Eastern:

Feb 06, 9:54 AM EST
Biden 'deeply saddened by the loss of life and devastation'

President Joe Biden tweeted that he’s “deeply saddened by the loss of life and devastation” from the earthquake.

“I have directed my team to continue to closely monitor the situation in coordination with Turkey and provide any and all needed assistance," he tweeted.

Feb 06, 9:14 AM EST
UK deploys emergency response teams to Turkey

The United Kingdom announced Monday it is “immediately” deploying emergency response teams to Turkey to assist rescue efforts following a deadly earthquake and powerful aftershocks.

According to a press release from the U.K. Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, 76 U.K. search and rescue specialists, four search dogs as well as rescue equipment will arrive in Turkey on Monday evening. A U.K. emergency medical team is also being sent to assess the situation on the ground.

“We stand ready to provide further support as needed,” U.K. Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said in a statement.

In northwestern Syria, where the quake was also felt, the U.K.-aid funded volunteer organization White Helmets has activated a significant search and rescue response and mobilized all its resources to respond to emerging needs. The U.K. government is in contact with the United Nations on emergency humanitarian support to those affected in Syria, according to the U.K. Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office.

“The British Embassy in Ankara is in close contact with the Turkish authorities to understand how we can best support those on the ground,” Jill Morris, British Ambassador-Designate to Türkiye said in a statement. “Our thoughts are with all those affected by the earthquakes today We pay tribute to the brave Turkish first responders working to save lives.”

The U.K. government’s announcement came on the heels of the Turkish Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD) declaring a “level 4 alarm” in the wake of the pre-dawn earthquake, calling for international assistance.

Feb 06, 7:25 AM EST
Monday’s quake was as powerful as the strongest ever recorded in Turkey

Monday’s deadly earthquake in Turkey, which was felt in Syria and other surrounding countries, was as strong as the most powerful one on record in Turkish history.

A 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck northeastern Turkey in 1939, killing approximately 30,000 people. Monday’s quake in southeastern Turkey had the same magnitude, according to the United States Geological Survey.

Earthquakes frequently occur in Turkey, which is situated on top of major fault lines.

Some 18,000 people were killed in powerful earthquakes that hit northwestern Turkey in 1999.

Feb 06, 7:02 AM EST
7.5 magnitude aftershock hits Turkey

Several hours after a 7.8 magnitude earthquake rocked southeastern Turkey early Monday, a powerful aftershock measuring 7.5 hit the country’s Kahramanmaras province around 1:30 p.m. local time, according to the United States Geological Survey.

Feb 06, 5:42 AM EST
Death toll jumps to over 1,200 in Turkey, Syria

Monday’s earthquake has killed at least 912 people in several Turkish provinces and injured 5,382 others, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced during a press conference.

Thousands of buildings were destroyed, Erdogan said.

Turkey’s disaster and emergency management agency, AFAD, is deploying 1,898 search and rescue workers along with 150 vehicles in response to the deadly earthquake. Turkey’s national police force has deployed 130 tactical unit members with mobile command centers and kitchens to the city of Kahramanmaras, near the quake’s epicenter. A total of 300,000 blankets were also sent to the region, which is deep in winter weather.

Meanwhile, at least 239 people were killed and some 600 were injured in government-held areas of Syria, according to Syrian state media. In rebel-controlled areas, at least 147 people were killed, according to the Syrian civil defense and medical group that operates in opposition-held areas, known as the White Helmets.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a United Kingdom-based monitoring group, put the overall death toll at 320.

Feb 06, 12:12 AM EST
US 'profoundly concerned' by 'destructive earthquake' in Turkey, Syria

The United States "is profoundly concerned" by the reports of the "destructive earthquake" in Turkey and Syria, and "will continue to closely monitor the situation," U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan said in a statement late Sunday night.

"We stand ready to provide any and all needed assistance," Sullivan added, noting that U.S. President Joe Biden "has directed USAID and other federal government partners to assess U.S. response options to help those most affected."

The U.S. Geological Survey measured the quake in Turkey at magnitude of 7.8.

-ABC News' Lauren Minore

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

At least 24 dead as Chile battles out-of-control wildfires

Stock-zilla/Getty Images

(NEW YORK) -- At least 24 people are dead as dozens of wildfires rage in Chile amid a scorching heat wave, Chilean authorities confirmed to ABC News.

The fatalities included two firefighters, authorities said. Approximately 1,000 people have also been injured, with 26 in life-threatening condition, and 1,475 people were evacuated and staying in shelters, authorities said.

As of Sunday evening, 260 fires were active in the South American country, with 28 out of control and considered dangerous, authorities said. At least 270,000 hectares of forests have been destroyed so far, according to official data.

A state of emergency has been declared in the central-southern regions of La Araucania, Ñuble and Biobío, which have been especially hard-hit by the fires.

Spain, Argentina, Mexico, Brazil and Colombia will be supporting the firefighting efforts with aircraft and logistics, Chilean authorities said.

Chile has been battling scores of wildfires amid high temperatures and a prolonged drought. The heat wave is expected to continue until at least Wednesday, with forecasted temperatures of at least 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Strong winds are also expected, which risk worsening fire conditions.

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Hong Kong’s largest national security trial of 47 democracy advocates begins

pawel.gaul/Getty Images

(HONG KONG) -- A landmark trial of 47 Hong Kong democracy advocates charged under a national security law began on Monday.

The case -- at the core of China's crackdown in Hong Kong -- comes just as the city launches a massive campaign to lure tourists back after the pandemic.

The defendants include activist Joshua Wong, as well as former lawmaker Claudia Mo and legal scholar Benny Tai. They're accused of "conspiracy to commit subversion" for holding unofficial pre-election primaries in July 2020, in which more than 600,000 people voted. At the time, authorities in Beijing and Hong Kong condemned the poll, arguing that they were trying to win enough seats in the city's legislature to paralyse the government.

Sixteen of the 47 had earlier said they would contest the charges. Two others changed their plea to guilty on Monday morning. All will be sentenced after the trial -- which could take 90 days.

Wong, Mo and Tai are among those who pleaded guilty, hoping for a more lenient sentence. But Tai, as one of the poll's organizers, will likely face a higher sentence anyway.

The defendants are facing a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. Many of them have already been held in pre-trial custody for nearly two years.

Inside the court on Monday, former lawmaker Leung "Long Hair" Kwok-hung said, "There's no crime to answer. It is not a crime to act against a totalitarian regime."

The judge replied by calling it a "solemn occasion" and asked for respect from the defendants.

In the times before the crackdown, it would be typical for crowds of protesters to gather outside of the courts during politically charged trials like this.

But demonstrations have all but disappeared in Hong Kong, since the national security law was introduced to stamp out dissent following the 2019 unrest.

Dozens of police were deployed to the court on Monday morning, as people queued overnight for a place in the court's public gallery. Some of them told local reporters they didn't even know what the trial was about.

Police pushed away members of the League of Social Democrats when they tried to arrive at court. They are one of Hong Kong's last active pro-democracy groups.

Two people carried a banner reading "crackdown is shameless."

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Russian army officer says he saw Ukrainian POWs tortured

Konstantin Yefremov

(NEW YORK) -- A senior Russian army lieutenant who fled Russia told ABC News he witnessed his country's troops torture prisoners in Ukraine, including beating and threats to rape them.

Konstantin Yefremov, the most senior Russian soldier to defect and speak out openly against the war, is now in hiding and spoke to ABC News from Mexico. He is currently seeking to apply for political asylum in the United States.

"I want that what I saw, what I was witness to, becomes known to society. So that the truth is uncovered," Yefremov said.

"I know that at home there only awaits me, in the best case, a lengthy prison term and, in the worst, they'll simply execute me," he said. "But to hide at home and wait for them to come for you, that's humiliating. And I can't be silent any longer. I don't want to be silent."

Yefremov, 33, spent three months as an officer in areas of Ukraine's southern Zaporizhzhia region that were occupied by Russian forces in the first phase of the war. During that time, he said he personally witnessed the torture of Ukrainian prisoners during interrogations, including the shooting of one POW in the arms and legs and threats of rape.

Yefremov has provided ABC News with documents confirming his identity as well as photos and videos that ABC has verified show him in southern Ukraine during the period he describes.

His unit, the 42nd Motorised Rifles Division -- usually based in Chechnya -- entered Ukraine from Crimea in the first days of the invasion, according to Yefremov.

Up until then, he said his commanders had told the troops they were to take part in exercises and that he, like most of his comrades, had not believed there would be war. The men only understood they really were going into Ukraine on the morning of the invasion when they heard the sound of artillery, he said.

Yefremov, who had served for nine years in the military, said he was appalled and claims that he tried to quit the military shortly after the invasion began. He said he left his unit and got in a taxi to drive him out of Crimea but, after he was threatened with imprisonment for desertion, he said he decided to return to his unit -- something he said he now regrets.

Once in Ukraine, he said he was assigned to a squad guarding an artillery position close to the Ukrainian city of Melitopol and then later his division's rear headquarters.

It was there -- the division's rear headquarters -- where he alleges he saw the brutal mistreatment of Ukrainian prisoners.

Yefremov said he was present when a drunken colonel began interrogating a young Ukrainian soldier who had admitted to being a sniper.

"They broke that prisoner's nose, they knocked out his teeth," said Yefremov. For more than a week, he said, the colonel tortured the Ukrainian POW everyday, subjecting him to a mock execution and threatening to rape him.

The colonel would "pull down his trousers and say to the other soldiers, 'Bring a mop -- now I'm going to put this mop into your rear. I'll video it and send it to your girlfriend,'" Yefremov recalled.

At one point, Yefremov said the colonel shot the prisoner in the arm and leg, breaking the bone.

"They bandaged him up, stopped the bleeding. Took him back to the garage with the other prisoners," Yefremov said.

Yefremov said he and other Russian officers secretly moved the injured Ukrainian to a Russian military hospital, dressing him up in a Russian army uniform because they feared doctors there would refuse to treat him or that wounded Russian soldiers might even kill him.

The prisoner was returned some days later wearing a cast.

"After that, the colonel, for several days, beat him again," Yefremov said.

Yefremov said three Ukrainian POWs captured were kept in a garage and made to sleep on the ground. He said the Russian troops were ordered not to feed the men anything other than crackers and water and that the prisoners were routinely beaten.

Yefremov said he and some other Russian soldiers tried to help the POWs as best they could, sneaking them food and cigarettes.

"I'm not trying to excuse myself. Or show how humane I was -- I understand I shouldn't have been there at all," he said.

ABC News is unable to independently verify Yefremov's torture allegations, but they resemble similar accounts of torture and abuse of prisoners by Russian forces widely documented in Ukraine.

Yefremov painted a picture of his own army plagued by ill-discipline and poor supplies. He said the men at the artillery unit he was guarding almost immediately ran short of food and water, reduced to hunting for hares and pheasants to feed themselves.

"We weren't supplied with anything. No tents, there wasn't enough basic food. We were occupied not so much with any military operations, as with our own survival," he said.

He said he also witnessed many incidents of Russian troops looting -- even taking things like lawnmowers, musical instruments and buckets.

Yefremov said most Russian troops had little motivation to fight and that the majority did not believe the Kremlin's justifications for the war, such as its claim to be "de-Nazifying" Ukraine.

"70% of the Russian Armed Forces don't believe in that. They understand that it's a pretext for invasion, a pretext for a crazy dictator to realize his ideas with their hands," he said.

He said many other soldiers had believed the war would end quickly and they would avoid heavy fighting but harsh new laws penalizing refusal to fight means it is now too late to resign.

"A Russian soldier … has been put in the position that either he goes fight or he sits in prison. They've said to him, 'Go and kill or we'll jail you,'" he said.

Yefremov said when he was rotated home to Chechnya in May, he decided he would not return to Ukraine. He refused an order to re-deploy and was accused of insubordination, after which he was discharged from the military in October.

But after president Vladimir Putin ordered a mobilization last fall, he said he realized his experience meant he would likely be called up. He said he went into hiding in Chechnya and then contacted a human rights group, Gulagu.net, to help him escape Russia.

Yefremov's account is supported by military documents detailing the insubordination case against him, that record him refusing to deploy to Ukraine in June.

For the past month he said he has been trying to apply for asylum in the U.S., but so far has been unable to meet with any American diplomatic staff. He said had been attempting to apply through the Customs & Border Protection's One app, a mobile phone application that the U.S. government requires asylum seekers trying to cross the border from Mexico to first submit their applications through.

Yefremov was the lead officer of a mine-clearing unit and he said previously he had worked on demining areas of Chechnya. He said he hadn't participated in Russia's 2014 seizure of Crimea and covert invasion of Donbas -- or its operation in Syria -- saying he had avoided those tours out of a personal conviction that they were wrong.

He said he fully supports Ukraine's efforts to liberate its territory and that he believes Russia now has no hope of winning the war.

He also called on his fellow soldiers to find ways to leave and "to not participate in that insanity," saying they were being exploited by the Russian leadership.

"A lie can't win," he said. "They are free people defending their land."

"I gave an oath by which I swore to protect my people. And so did all Russian military personnel. But the whole Russian army has broken that oath. They have all become Putin's private military company," he said.

Despite opposing the war, he said he could not excuse himself for taking part.

"I, in no way, am justifying myself. I'm guilty before the Ukrainian people that I came with a weapon in my hands as an uninvited guest. As long as I live I will feel that guilt," he said.

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Russia-Ukraine live updates: Natanyahu considers 'Iron Dome' for Ukraine

SAMEER AL-DOUMY/AFP via Getty Images

(NEW YORK) -- Almost a year after Russian President Vladimir Putin launched an invasion into neighboring Ukraine, the two countries are engaged in a struggle for control of areas throughout eastern and southern Ukraine.

Putin's forces pulled out of key positions in November, retreating from Kherson as Ukrainian troops led a counteroffensive targeting the southern port city. Russian drones have continued bombarding civilian targets throughout Ukraine, knocking out critical power infrastructure as winter sets in.

Here's how the news is developing. All times Eastern:

Feb 05, 2:20 PM EST
Delays on aircraft will result in more Ukrainian deaths: Defense minister

Ukraine’s minister of defense warned his western partners Sunday that if they "procrastinate" over the supply of aircraft to Ukraine, more Ukrainians will die.

"If we will have a procrastination or reluctance with aircraft platforms, it will cost us more lives, more blood of Ukrainians," Oleksiy Reznikov told reporters in Kyiv.

Reznikov appeared to concede that the most readily available and Ukraine's preferred western aircraft, American F-16s, were no longer an option on the table with western partners.

He said Sweden’s Gripen fighter jets are still an option. Ukrainian officials have previously mentioned the Gripen as a possibility in conversations with ABC News about weapons supplies.

"I’m sure we will have (western) aircraft," Reznikov said.

Reznikov also spoke of the fierce fighting being wage in the city of Bakhmut in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine.

Reznikov described the city as a “stronghold” which Russia has been trying to occupy for months.

Reznikov said 500 Russian soldiers a day are being injured or killed in the fight for Bukhmut and that Ukrainian casualties are significantly lower.

Any strategic decision on whether or not to withdraw, Reznikov said, would be made by Ukrainian generals and is "not a political decision."

-ABC News Tom Soufi Burridge

Feb 05, 1:01 PM EST
Netanyahu considers sending Ukraine 'Iron Dome' defense system

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in an interview Saturday that he is considering sending to Ukraine an Iron Dome defense system.

Netanyahu told French broadcasters TF1 and LCI that he is "looking into" sending Ukraine the mobile all-weather air defense system that has helped protect his country from Palestinian rockets launched from the Gaza Strip.

"I said I’m looking into it and I’m doing just that," Netanyahu said during a visit to France.

In October, the Ukrainian government sent Israel an official request for the Iron Dome system to fend off Iranian ballistic missiles and attack drones used by Russia in Ukraine.

Netanyahu did not disclose a timeframe for when the defense system might be sent to Ukraine, saying, he is reviewing the request from Ukraine and the overall policy for supplying the system.

Feb 05, 12:19 PM EST
Fierce fighting continues in Kharkiv, Bakhmut

At least five people were injured Sunday when Russian missiles hit a residential building and a university in central Kharkiv, Ukraine's second largest city, Ukrainian officials said.

Kharkiv Regional Gov. Oleh Syniehubov said four people were hurt when a Russian missile landed near an apartment building in central Kharkiv, according to The Associated Press.

Syniehubov said one other person was injured in a missile strike on a building at the National Academy for Urban Economy, a university near Kharkiv's central square.

The missile strikes prompted the evacuation of local residents, Syniehubov said.

"In short, there was a strong blast, and it was just one short moment and everything happened," one of the evacuees, Lyudmyula Krylova, told Reuters.

Krylova said she was in the residential building near where the missile landed.

"We were saved by the furniture that fell on us, and because of this we are now alive," said Krylova, adding that a friend was injured in the attack and taken to a hospital.

Meanwhile, fighting intensified Sunday in the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut, Yevgeny Prigozhin, leader of the private Russian military company, the Wagner Group, said in a statement posted on Telegram.

Prigozhin denied reports that Ukrainian forces were retreating from the area. He said the Ukrainian troops were fighting for “every street, every house, every stairwell.”

Feb 03, 4:58 PM EST
American volunteer medic killed in Ukraine

An American volunteer medic was killed in Ukraine on Thursday while helping civilians evacuate, according to his family and Global Outreach Doctors, the humanitarian organization he was volunteering with.

Pete Reed, 33, died after his evacuation vehicle was hit with a reported missile in Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine, according to Global Outreach Doctors.

"Pete was a beacon of humanitarian work -- an incredible visionary, leader, compassionate care provider, and an inspiration to us all," Global Outreach Doctors founder and president Andrew Lustig said in a statement on social media Friday. "He selflessly dedicated his life in service to others, especially those affected by disaster and war. Pete accomplished more in his 33 years than most of us in our entire lives. He leaves behind an incredible legacy."

His family said that Reed was responding to wounded civilians when his ambulance was shelled.

"He died doing what he was great at, what gave him life, and what he loved, and apparently by saving a team member with his own body," his family said in a statement shared to social media on Friday. "As you can imagine we are all in shock and have much to do to get him home so we ask for privacy presently."

Reed was a former U.S. Marine who joined Global Outreach Doctors in January to serve as its Ukraine country director, Lustig said.

The State Department did not name Reed directly, in accordance with its standard privacy practices, though a spokesperson confirmed the death of a U.S. citizen in Ukraine and said that officials from the department "are in touch with the family and providing all possible consular assistance."

Feb 03, 2:49 PM EST
US announces 1st transfer of seized assets to war effort

Attorney General Merrick Garland announced during a meeting with Ukraine's top prosecutor on Friday that he has authorized the first transfer of forfeited Russian assets to go toward the Ukrainian war and recovery effort.

The $5.4 million was formally ordered confiscated Thursday from sanctioned Russian businessman Konstantin Malofeyev. Garland's order will direct the money to the State Department for use in Ukraine under a new law signed by President Joe Biden late last year.

"The Justice Department will continue to hold accountable Russian oligarchs and others whose criminal acts enable the Russian government to continue its unprovoked and unjust war in Ukraine," Garland said in his meeting with Ukrainian Prosecutor General Andriy Kostin. "And we will continue to work closely with our international partners to support investigation and prosecution of the atrocities that have occurred during this war."

Kostin thanked Garland for authorizing the transfer, which he said showed "the responsible party pays for the devastation that it caused."

"The reparation of tremendous human and material damage to Ukraine and Ukrainian people is an important aspect in our quest for justice," Kostin said.

-ABC News' Alex Mallin

Feb 03, 1:41 PM EST
US announces $2.2 billion in aid to Ukraine

The U.S. announced another $2.2 billion in security assistance for Ukraine on Friday.

The package includes "critical air defense capabilities to help Ukraine defend its people, as well as armored infantry vehicles and more equipment that Ukraine is using so effectively, including Javelin anti-tank missiles, artillery ammunition, and conventional and long-range rockets for U.S.-provided [High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems]," the Department of Defense said in a statement.

The weapons package includes precision-guided rockets, or Ground Launched Small Diameter Bombs, which have a longer range than the Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System missiles Ukraine currently has, though not as long as the Army Tactical Missile System (ATACM) missiles that Ukraine has requested.

The package includes the authorization of presidential drawdown from existing U.S. stocks valued at up to $425 million and $1.75 billion in Ukraine Assistance Security Initiative funds for new weapons purchases, the Department of Defense said.

--ABC News' Luis Martinez

Feb 03, 11:55 AM EST
Zelenskyy: 'Nobody will give away Bakhmut'

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Ukraine will "fight for as long as we can" to hold on to the eastern city of Bakhmut in remarks on Friday.

"Nobody will give away Bakhmut," Zelenskyy said during a news conference with European Union officials after a summit in Kyiv, Reuters reported. "We consider Bakhmut our fortress."

"Ukraine would be able to hold Bakhmut and liberate occupied Donbas if it received long-range weapons," he added.

The remarks come as Ukrainian and Russian forces remain locked in a brutal battle in and around Bakhmut.

Feb 01, 6:32 PM EST
2 civilians killed in ballistic missile strike in Kramatorsk: Zelenskyy

At least two people were killed and more injured in Kramatorsk after a Russian ballistic missile hit a residential building, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said.

“Some people are still under the rubble. No goal other than terror,” Zelenskyy said. “The only way to stop Russian terrorism is to defeat it. By tanks. Fighter jets. Long-range missiles.”

-ABC News' William Gretsky

Feb 01, 1:51 PM EST
US issues additional sanctions against Russian military-industrial complex

The U.S. Treasury Department announced a new round of sanctions against 22 individuals and entities across various countries it alleges have aided Russia's military-industrial complex evade other sanctions already in place. The U.S. is specifically targeting a father and son arms-dealing duo and their vast international network.

The department said these steps are part of "the U.S. strategy to methodically and intensively target sanctions evasion efforts around the globe, close down key backfilling channels, expose facilitators and enablers, and limit Russia’s access to revenue needed to wage its brutal war in Ukraine."

-ABC News' Shannon Crawford

Jan 31, 7:31 AM EST
Human Rights Watch calls on Ukraine to investigate use of landmines in Izium

Human Rights Watch is calling on Ukraine to investigate its military's "apparent use of thousands of rocket-fired antipersonnel landmines in and around the eastern city of Izium where Russian forces occupied the area."

The international non-governmental organization issued a press release on Monday saying it has "documented numerous cases in which rockets carrying PFM antipersonnel mines, also called 'butterfly mines' or 'petal mines,' were fired into Russian-occupied areas near Russian military facilities." Ukraine is a state party to the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty, which prohibits any use of antipersonnel mines.

Human Rights Watch said it has previously documented Russian forces’ use of antipersonnel landmines in Ukraine in 2022.

"Ukrainian forces appear to have extensively scattered landmines around the Izium area, causing civilian casualties and posing an ongoing risk," Steve Goose, arms division director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement. "Russian forces have repeatedly used antipersonnel mines and committed atrocities across the country, but this doesn't justify Ukrainian use of these prohibited weapons."

Jan 29, 7:34 PM EST
Reports of 3 dead, 6 wounded in Kherson from Russian shelling: Zelenskyy

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy highlighted the Russian shelling of Kherson in his evening address Sunday, saying there are "reports of six wounded and three dead" from the recent shelling.

"Today, the Russian army has been shelling Kherson atrociously all day. Residential buildings, various social and transport facilities, including a hospital, post office and bus station, have been damaged," Zelenskyy said. "Two women, nurses, were wounded in the hospital. As of now, there are reports of six wounded and three dead."

Zelenskyy spoke with the president-elect of the Czech Republic Sunday and invited him to come to Ukraine, he said.

Zelenskyy also noted the progress that was made last week in getting NATO members and allied countries to commit to sending more weapons to Ukraine, but added, "We have to make the next week no less powerful for our defense."

-ABC News' Ellie Kaufman

Jan 26, 1:11 PM EST
11 dead, 11 injured in missile strikes on Ukraine

Eleven people died and 11 others were injured in Russian missile strikes throughout 11 regions of Ukraine on Thursday, according to Ukrainian emergency services.

Two fires broke out and 35 buildings were damaged in the strike.

-ABC News' Will Gretsky

Jan 26, 11:17 AM EST
US designates Russia's Wagner Group as 'transnational criminal organization'

The U.S. Treasury Department announced sanctions against a number of individuals and entities associated with the Wager Group in Russia and across the world in an effort to "degrade the Russian Federation’s capacity to wage war against Ukraine," the department said in a statement.

The U.S. designated Russia's Wagner Group a "transnational criminal organization," not just for the alleged atrocities it has committed during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but also for its alleged human rights abuses in African countries like the Central African Republic.

The U.S. believes the Wagner Group has 50,000 people fighting in Ukraine, including 40,000 convicts, according to the White House. The group's leader is Russian President Vladimir Putin's ally Yevgeniy Prigozhin, who was already facing several U.S. sanctions.

Last week, the White House first announced the U.S. would take this step.

Jan 26, 5:21 AM EST
One dead in Kyiv in Russian missile strike

At least 15 missiles fired at Kyiv on Thursday were shot down, officials said.

One person was killed and two were wounded after part of a missile fell in the Holosiivskyi District of Kyiv, Mayor Vitaliy Klychko said. The missile hit a residential building, he said.

Air raid sirens began sounding just before sunrise in the capital. Some residents fled to shelters, including Kyiv's metro stations.

A missile also struck Vinnytsia, the local governor said. No casualties were immediately reported there.

Jan 26, 2:00 AM EST
Air raid sirens sound in Kyiv

Air raid sirens went off across Ukraine as Russia launched multiple missiles from the east and south. Some were shot down, according to Andriy Yermak, head of the president's office.

Airborne forces last night shot down all 24 unmanned aerial vehicles launched by Russia. At least 15 of those were shot down in or around Kyiv, according to the local authorities. No casualties or impacts were reported.

Jan 25, 6:31 AM EST
Germany to deliver tanks to Ukraine, in major step for allies' support

German officials said on Wednesday they plan to deliver 14 Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine.

“This decision follows our well-known line of supporting Ukraine to the best of our ability,” Chancellor Olaf Scholz said in a statement. “We are acting in a closely coordinated manner internationally.”

Officials said the decision was the result of intensive consultations that took place with Germany's closest European and international partners. Other European allies also plan to send tanks, German officials said.

Ukrainian troops will be trained on the tanks in Germany, officials said in a statement. Germany also planned to send ammunition and provide system maintenance.

Jan 24, 2:53 PM EST
US considering sending Abrams tanks to Ukraine: Officials

The Biden administration is leaning toward sending M1A1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine, U.S. officials have confirmed to ABC News.

The U.S. could commit to sending between 30 to 50 tanks to Ukraine under the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative.

It could take more than a year for the new tanks to be fielded, officials said.

While President Joe Biden has not made a final decision, the transfer of Abrams would presumably enable Germany to authorize the transfer of German-made Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine. This could then allow the 12 NATO countries that have Leopard 2 tanks to transfer them to Ukraine.

The decision could be announced as early as this week, officials said.

Jan 23, 5:11 PM EST
Zelenskyy issues new rule barring officials from personal travel out of country

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy announced a new policy that forbids Ukrainian officials from leaving the country for non-governmental purposes.
"Officials will no longer be able to travel abroad for vacation or for any other non-governmental purpose," Zelesnkyy said in his evening address Monday. "Within five days, the Cabinet of Ministers is to develop a border-crossing procedure for officials so that only a real working trip can be the reason for border crossing."
-ABC News' Ellie Kaufman

Jan 19, 7:06 PM EST
CIA director held secret meeting with Zelenskyy in Kyiv: US Official

CIA Director William J. Burns traveled to Kyiv and met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Ukrainian intelligence officials last week, a U.S. official told ABC News.

The director "reinforced our continued support for Ukraine in its defense against Russian aggression," according to the official.

The Washington Post first reported the meeting earlier Thursday.

-ABC News' Cindy Smith

Jan 19, 6:13 PM EST
Pentagon announces $2.5B more aid for Ukraine

The Pentagon announced Thursday evening that it will provide Ukraine with $2.5 billion in additional aid for its efforts fighting Russian forces.

This is the 13th drawdown of equipment from the Department of Defense's inventories for Ukraine since August 2021, the agency said.

The package includes several weapons and equipment such as 59 Bradley infantry fighting vehicles and 90 Stryker armored personnel carriers, the DoD said.

-ABC News' Luis Martinez

Jan 19, 4:34 PM EST
UN nuclear watchdog chief 'worried' about a disaster in Ukraine

The head of the United Nations nuclear watchdog group said Thursday that he is worried the world is becoming complacent about the "very precarious" situation posed by the Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant in Ukraine.

Russian forces seized the plant, Europe's largest, in March 2022 and it has repeatedly come under fire in recent months, raising fears of a nuclear disaster. Rafael Grossi, director general of the U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), is working to set up a safe zone around the facility.

"I think the situation is very precarious," Grossi told reporters in the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv. "I worry that this is becoming routine, that people may believe that nothing has happened so far, so is the director general of the IAEA crying wolf?"

Grossi said two major explosions occurred near the plant on Thursday, adding to the alarming situation.

"We know every day that a nuclear accident or an accident having serious radiological consequences may take place," said Grossi before travelling to Moscow for talks with Russian officials.

Jan 19, 1:53 PM EST
Zelenskyy calls for new sanctions against Russia's nuclear industry

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Thursday pleaded with leaders of the European Union to pursue new sanctions against Russia's nuclear industry and energy carriers.

During a joint news conference in Kyiv with European Council President Charles Michel, Zelenskyy said he believes a tenth package of sanctions "could be even more effective" than the previous ones.

"The time has come, in particular, for sanctions against the Russian nuclear industry, against all its branches, organizations and all entities that work for the Russian missile program," Zelenskyy said.

He also expressed his frustration over Germany's hesitation to send Leopard tanks Ukraine.

"The issue of tanks remains relevant and very sensitive," Zelenskyy said. "It depends on many reasons and, unfortunately, does not depend on the will of Ukraine. We create pressure as hard as we can politically, but the essential thing is that our pressure is well-reasoned."

Zelenskyy added, "Against thousands of tanks of the Russian Federation, as I told our colleagues, only the courage of our military and the motivation of the Ukrainian people are not enough."

Since the United Kingdom announced last week it will send Challenger 2 tanks to Russia, the German government has faced mounting pressure to follow suit, or at least allow NATO allies such as Poland to supply Ukraine with German-made Leopard tanks.

"The delivery of Leopard tanks to Ukraine is still a matter of dispute in the Bundestag (national parliament)," according to a statement released Thursday by the German government, which added that the issue is still the subject of "heated debate."

Jan 18, 6:10 PM EST
Close to 100 Stryker armored vehicles part of next aid package: US official

A U.S. official confirmed to ABC News that the upcoming aid package to Ukraine will include close to 100 Stryker Armored Vehicles and additional Bradley fighting vehicles.

The Stryker is a wheeled armored vehicles that can carry as many as 11 soldiers inside and is equipped with a 30mm gun and or machine gun that are remotely fired from inside the vehicle. It’s fast moving and can be used on roads or off roads, though the off road option is better handled by the tracked Bradley fighting vehicles.

-ABC News' Luis Martinez

Jan 18, 5:49 PM EST
Zelenskyy provides update on helicopter crash

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy provided an update on the helicopter crash near Kyiv near a kindergarten.

Zelenskyy said 14 people were killed in total including Ukrainian Interior Minister Denys Monastyrski and one child.

Twenty-five people were injured, including 11 kids, the president added.

"Hundreds of people were involved in extinguishing the fire, searching and rescuing the injured, carrying out the initial investigative actions," Zelenskyy said.

The president praised the efforts of kindergarten teachers who rushed in to help.

"Thank you for your bold actions, for taking the children out," he said.

Zelenskyy said the Ministry of Internal Affairs will be temporarily led by the head of the National Police of Ukraine.

"The tasks for which the Minister was responsible in the context of our defense operation and ensuring the security of the state have also been distributed," he said.

The cause of the helicopter crash is still under investigation.

-ABC News' Wil Gretsky

Jan 18, 12:38 PM EST
Putin prepared for long war, Nato says

Russia is preparing for an extended war so NATO must get ready “for the long haul” and support Ukraine for as long as it takes, the alliance’s Deputy Secretary General Mircea Geoana told top European military chiefs Wednesday.

NATO nations must invest more in defense, ramp up military industrial manufacturing and harness new technologies to prepare for future wars, Geoana said, speaking at the opening of the military chiefs’ meeting in Brussels.

-ABC News' Will Gretsky

Jan 18, 9:40 AM EST
Sixteen people dead in helicopter crash, including three children

Sixteen people, including Ukrainian Interior Minister Denys Monastyrsky, died in a helicopter crash near Kyiv, according to national police, the deputy head of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's office and Ukraine's security service.

Monastyrsky is considered the most senior government official to die since the war started 11 months ago.

Jan 18, 3:57 AM EST
Helicopter crash near Kyiv kills interior minister

Ukrainian officials were killed on Wednesday morning in a helicopter crash near Kyiv.

Ukrainian Interior Minister Denys Monastyrskyi, deputy Evgeniy Yenin and the state secretary of the interior ministry, Yuriy Lunkovych, died when a helicopter crashed in Brovary, a town on the outskirts of Kyiv, chief of the national police Igor Klymenko said on Facebook.

The emergency services helicopter crashed near a kindergarten in a residential area, according to officials.

According to the interior ministry, at least 18 people died, including three children. Another 22 people, including 10 children, were wounded, officials said.

The cause of the crash is unclear for now.

Jan 17, 5:06 PM EST
Zelenskyy confirms Netherlands sending Patriot Missile System

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy announced that the Netherlands will provide Ukrainian forces a Patriot Missile System.

Zelenskyy said Ukrainian forces will now have three guaranteed Patriot batteries.

-ABC News Will Gretsky

Jan 17, 3:34 PM EST
White House condemns Dnipro attack

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre talked about the latest developments in Ukraine and slammed Russia over its missile strike on the apartment building in Dnipro.

"This weekend’s strikes are another example, as you've heard us say, of the brutal and barbaric war that Russia is waging against the Ukrainian people,” she told reporters during a White House press briefing.

“And we have seen this over and over again," she added.

Jean-Pierre also praised the UK’s announcement Monday that it plans to send Challenger 2 tanks to Ukraine.

The press secretary didn't say whether the U.S. would provide tanks to Ukraine or if Biden would pressure other countries to do so.

She noted that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was going to host another multinational meeting on Friday of the "Ukraine Contact Group" -- a gathering of defense ministers to discuss security assistance to Ukraine.

-ABC News' Ben Gittleson

Jan 17, 12:39 PM EST
Death toll from Dnipro missile attack rises to 45: Mayor

The death toll from Saturday's missile attack on an apartment building in Dnipro has risen to 45, including six children, according to Borys Filatov, the city's mayor.

The search and rescue operations have ended, according to the emergency services.

In addition to the fatalities, there were 79 people wounded, including 16 children, according to emergency services.

Thirty-nine people were rescued from the rubble, including six children, emergency services said.

-ABC News' William Gretsky

Jan 16, 4:56 PM EST
Ukrainian soldiers arrive in US for Patriot missile training

Ukrainian soldiers arrived in the United States on Sunday to begin training on the Patriot air defense missile system at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, a U.S. military official said.

The training at Fort Sill is expected to last several months, and then switch briefly to Europe, officials said.

-ABC News' Luis Martinez

Jan 16, 4:33 PM EST
39 people, including 6 children, rescued from rubble in Dnipro

Emergency crews have rescued 39 people, including six children, who were buried under the rubble caused by a missile strike on a high-rise apartment complex in Dnipro over the weekend, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in his Monday evening address.

The death toll remains at 40, including three children, he said.

The Kremlin denied being responsible for the attack, saying Russia doesn’t strike residential areas and claiming the destruction was a result of Ukrainian air defense.

"The debris of the house destroyed by the Russian missile is still being dismantled in Dnipro," Zelenskyy said. "I thank everyone who is carrying out this rescue operation. Every employee of the State Emergency Service and police, every doctor, every volunteer. Everyone who is involved."

-ABC News' Ellie Kaufman

Jan 16, 4:09 PM EST
Civilian survivors speak out after missile strike in Dnipro

Emergency workers were still looking for survivors Monday following a strike on a high-rise apartment building on Saturday in the Ukrainian city of Dnipro.

The death toll rose to 40 dead, including three children, making it the deadliest strike on a residential area in Ukraine in the last three months.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called the attack "Russian terror," saying Ukraine was "fighting for every person, every life" under in rubble in Dnipro and would "find everyone involved in this terror."

The attack on an apartment building destroyed 72 units and wounded 75 residents.

Rescuers have been using cranes to remove chunk after chunk of rubble, looking for survivors.

One of the survivors, Yevgeni, told ABC News that he was in his bed when the missile struck his apartment.

"I can’t understand. I didn’t hear any bang, any voice, any sound of the missile," said Yevgeni, adding that he suffered a head injury and that his broken window frame fell on him.

He described seeing smoke and "a lot of dust" at the scene. He said "the most scary thing (was hearing) the voices of people screaming."

Local resident Natali Nodykova told ABC News that a friend called her to tell her there was a bombing in her neighborhood.

"My son was alone at home and of course I was afraid," Nodykova said.

Emergency workers rescued 39 people, Ukrainian officials said. Twelve people remained unaccounted for Monday.

The attack was caused by a Soviet-made Kh-22, a long-range missile used to take down aircraft carriers, according to the Ukrainian Air Force.

The massive 13,000-pound missile causes huge amounts of casualties when used in civilian areas.

The Kremlin denied the attack, saying Russia doesn’t strike residential areas and claiming the destruction was a result of Ukrainian air defense.

The same type of weapon had been used in a previous attack on a shopping mall in the town of Kremenchuk back in July that killed 22 people, according to Ukrainian authorities.

-ABC News' Ibtissem Guenfoud, Bruno Roeber, Oleksii Pshemyskiy, Matt Gutman and Max Uzol

Jan 16, 10:24 AM EST
Three children among 40 killed in Dnipro missile strike

The death toll climbed to 40 on Monday from a weekend missile strike on a high-rise apartment complex in the central Ukrainian city of Dnipro, according to Ukrainian officials.

At least three children were among those killed, officials said. Another 70 people were injured.

The death toll is expected to rise as 30 people remain unaccounted for, officials said.

On Saturday, a missile slammed into a block of high-rise apartment buildings in the central Dnipro. While Ukrainian officials blamed Russia for the strike, one of the deadliest attacks since the war began, the Kremlin denied Russia was involved.

“The Russian armed forces do not strike residential buildings or social infrastructure, they strike military targets,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters Monday.

Jan 15, 3:40 PM EST
Survivor pulled from rubble in Dnipro as death toll rises

The death toll from a Russian missile strike on a block of high-rise apartment buildings in the central Ukrainian city of Dnipro rose to 29 on Sunday.

Amidst the devastation, rescuers pulled one woman alive from the rubble on Sunday and officials said she was saved by a cocoon of concrete that surrounded her.

The survivor was rescued from a block of apartment buildings hit by a Russian missile on Saturday in the city about 500 miles southeast of the capital of Kyiv.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said a child was among those killed in the Dnipro missile attack.

Despite Sunday's rescue, emergency workers said the hope of finding more survivors is fading.

The rocket attack reduced part of a high-rise apartment building to a pile of rubble that was still smoldering on Sunday. Noxious fumes from burning couches, curtains and TVs emanated from the pile as firefighters sprayed water hoses on it and rescue workers dug through the debris with their bare hands, an ABC News crew in Dnipro reported.

In addition to the now 29 killed in the attack, more than 70 people were injured, Ukrainian officials said. The strike left hundreds of apartments uninhabitable, officials said.

Emergency crews brought in cranes Sunday to help move large pieces of debris.

As the rescue operation went on Sunday, periodic moments of silence were called for so rescuers could listen for cries for help from people feared missing in the rubble.

-ABC News' Matt Gutman

Jan 14, 11:07 AM EST
5 killed, dozens hurt in attack in Dnipro

Five people were killed and at least 27 were wounded in a Russian attack in Dnipro in central Ukraine, according to the governor.

An apartment block was struck and at least two children are among the injured, according to the deputy head of the president’s office.

-ABC News’ Yulia Drozd

Jan 14, 9:27 AM EST
Kyiv under Russian missile attack Saturday morning

Kyiv mayor Vitali Klitschko said explosions occurred in different districts on both banks in the city on Saturday morning and, in one of the districts, fire broke out in a non-residential area.

There were no casualties as a result of the attack that happened at approximately 6 a.m. but 18 residential houses were damaged in the region, according to the governor Oleksiy Kuleba.

The spokesman for the Ukrainian Airborne Forces, Yuri Ignat, told ABC News that Ukrainian authorities think it could have possibly been a ballistic attack by Russia but could not confirm this.

"Most likely, these are missiles that flew along a ballistic trajectory from the north. Ballistics are not available for us to detect and shoot down," Ignat said on Ukrainian television.

-ABC News' Yulia Drozd

Jan 13, 4:02 PM EST
Russian forces claim to have taken Soledar

Russian military leaders claim their forces took over the salt-mining town of Soledar.

Video showed Russian soldiers evacuating civilians from Soledar and nearby villages to the city of Shakhtarsk as fighting took place on the outskirts on Friday.

Serhiy Cherevaty, the Ukrainian commander of the Eastern Group of Forces, however, confirmed that fighting was going on in the region but contested Russia's claims about the status of the city in a statement to ABC News.

"We have a clear understanding of who controls which streets in the city, but I cannot reveal those details," he told ABC News.

-ABC News' Ellie Kaufman and Patrick Reevell

Jan 12, 1:51 PM EST
Pressure mounts on NATO countries to send tanks to Ukraine

Pressure is mounting for key NATO allies to send tanks to Ukraine.

After meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Wednesday, Polish President Andrzej Duda said his country plans to supply Leopard tanks to Ukraine but only as part of an "international coalition."

"They will be provided within the coalition, because you know that it is necessary to obtain certain official consents. But first we need to build an international coalition and we have decided to form this international coalition," Duda said.

Duda “expressed hope” other NATO countries would provide Ukraine with tanks as well.

The United Kingdom has not made a final decision on whether to send tanks to Ukraine, according to the spokesperson for British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak. The United Kingdom is considering supplying Ukraine with the British Army’s Challenger 2 main battle tank, according to British media reports.

Germany is also facing pressure from Ukraine and other NATO allies to send tanks to Ukraine. So far, they have not committed to sending any tanks to the country and neither has the United States.

Germany and the United States have both agreed to supply Ukraine with armored carriers and the Patriot air defense system.

Jan 12, 12:52 PM EST
Russians, Ukrainians give conflicting views in the battle for Soledar

Russian and Ukrainian officials offered conflicting views Thursday on the battle being waged over the eastern Ukraine city of Soledar.

Both sides described their forces as making progress in the fight for the salt mining town in the Donbas region.

"Our defenders continue to hold their positions on the most difficult frontlines and in the battle for (the) Donbas," said Hanna Maliar, the Ukrainian deputy of defense. "Today, fierce and heavy battles continue in the direction of Bakhmut, in the area of Soledar city."

Despite the "difficult situation," Ukrainian soldiers are desperately battling for control of Soledar, Maliar said.

"The enemy is suffering heavy losses, unsuccessfully trying to break through our defenses and capture Soledar," Maliar said. "Today, the city's approaches are literally littered with the bodies of Putin's destroyed troops. Nevertheless, they move over the bodies of their fallen fighters. Our defenders show maximum resilience and heroism."

But Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said Thursday that Russian forces and mercenaries from the Wagner private military company are doing a "truly colossal job" in Soledar.

"These are absolutely selfless, heroic deeds," Peskov told journalists on Thursday.

Peskov said the hostilities in the region will continue.

"There is still a lot of work to be done. No time to stop, no time to rub our hands and so on. The main work is yet to come," Peskov said.

The Russian Defense Ministry said on Wednesday that Russia's airborne units had blocked Soledar from the north and the south and assault teams were fighting within the town limits.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in his daily address on Wednesday that Ukrainian troops are holding onto Soledar.

"The terrorist state and its propagandists are trying to pretend" to have achieved some successes in Soledar, Zelenskyy said. "But the fighting continues."

Jan 11, 4:51 PM EST
Russian shake-up as military chief in Ukraine replaced

Russia has replaced the military chief in charge in Ukraine, according to the Kremlin.

Army Gen. Valery Gerasimov, chief of the general staff of the Russian armed forces, will replace Sergei Surovikin, who has been commander of Russia's forces in Ukraine for the past three months. Surovikin will become one of Gerasimov's deputies, according to Sergei Shoigu, Russia's minister of defense, who made the new appointments.

The changes come as the progress of the Russian forces in Ukraine continues to stall.

"The increase in the level of leadership of the special operation is linked to the expansion of the scale of the tasks at hand and the need to organize closer interaction between troops," Shoigu said.

Jan 11, 12:17 PM EST
Ukrainians deny reports the city of Soledar on verge of falling to Russia

Ukrainian officials on Wednesday denied reports that the eastern Ukrainian city of Soledar is on the verge of being captured by Russian forces and claimed the battle for the city is ongoing.

The report contradicts British intelligence officials who on Tuesday said it appeared that Russian troops were close to capturing a salt mining town in an apparent attempt to cut off the enemy's supply routes. The British officials said Russian forces, along with mercenaries from the Wagner private military company, were likely in control of the city of Soledar, which is about six miles north of Bakhmut in the Donbas region, where heavy fighting has been reported in recent days.

The head of the Wagner group also released a statement on Telegram Tuesday, saying his mercenaries were in control of Soledar.

But Ukrainian officials said Wednesday the city has not fallen into the hands of Russian forces and the Russian mercenary group.

"Russians say that it is under their control; it is not true," said Serhiy Cherevatyi, a spokesperson for the Ukrainian eastern military command.

The Russian attack on Soledar is an apparent attempt to bypass Bakhmut from the north and disrupt Ukrainian supply routes, the British intelligence officials said. Part of the fighting is being waged near the entrances to the 124 miles of abandoned salt mine tunnels that run under the area.

On Tuesday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy described the fighting in Soledar as "very difficult."

Jan 10, 4:09 PM EST
Russia not ready to launch new offensive from Belarus: Ukrainian officials

Senior Ukrainian officials said Tuesday that they believe any prospect of Russia launching a new offensive toward Kyiv from Belarus is "not likely at this moment."

The latest statement from Ukrainian officials contrasted with a series of interviews they gave last month in which they suggested Russia could mount an offensive early this year and even try to take Kyiv.

"Our assessment is that the Russians aren't in a position to make an advance on Kyiv from Belarus. And if that were their intention, it wouldn't happen for some time," a senior Ukrainian official said Tuesday.

The Ukrainian officials added that the mere threat of an assault from Belarus means that Ukrainian forces are "fixed" along the Ukraine-Belarus border.

-ABC News' Tom Soufi Burridge

Jan 10, 2:15 PM EST
Ukrainians set to begin Patriot air defense training in Oklahoma

As many as 100 Ukrainians troops will soon begin training on the Patriot air defense system at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, two U.S. officials told ABC News Tuesday.

Fort Sill is the main artillery school for the U.S. Army and where months-long training on Patriot systems already takes place.

Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder, a Pentagon spokesperson, said the Ukrainians could begin training on the Patriot system as soon as next week.

"The training will prepare approximately 90 to 100 Ukrainian soldiers to operate, maintain and sustain the defensive system over a training course expected to last several months," Ryder said.

Once deployed, the Patriot batteries will fortify Ukraine's air defense capabilities and provide an additional way for the "Ukrainian people to defend themselves against Russia's ongoing aerial assaults," Ryder said.

Ryder would not give a precise time frame, but said that once the training is completed, the system will be sent to Ukraine to be put to use.

President Joe Biden announced last month that the United States will provide Ukraine with a Patriot missile defense system. The German government also agreed this month to supply Ukraine with a second Patriot missile battery.

-ABC News' Matt Seyler

Jan 10, 1:30 PM EST
Russians on verge of overtaking eastern Ukrainian city

Russian troops were on the verge Tuesday of capturing a salt mining town in eastern Ukraine in an apparent attempt to cut off the enemy's supply routes, according to British intelligence officials.

The Russian forces, along with mercenaries from the Wagner private military company, were likely in control of the city of Soledar, which is about six miles north of Bakhmut in the Donbas region, where heavy fighting has been reported in recent days, the British officials said.

The attack on Soledar is an apparent attempt to bypass Bakhmut from the north and disrupt Ukrainian supply routes, the British intelligence officials said. Part of the fighting is being waged near the entrances to the 124 miles of abandoned salt mine tunnels that run under the area.

Despite the increased pressure on Bakhmut, Russia is unlikely to be able to encircle the city in the near future because Ukrainian forces have created a stable line of defense and control supply routes in the area, the British officials said.

The Ukrainian Army said Russian troops carried out 86 artillery strikes on Soledar in a 24-hour period, and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has described the fighting there as "very difficult."

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

'Squid Game' star Oh Yeong-soo goes on trial for sexual misconduct

Momodu Mansaray/Getty Images

(SEOUL, South Korea) -- Actor Oh Yeong-soo, who rose to global recognition after appearing in the Netflix hit "Squid game," goes on trial for sexual misconduct on Friday.

The prosecution charged Oh, 78, with indecent assault for alleged inappropriate physical contact with a woman in 2017. The alleged victim first brought her case to the police in 2021, authorities said.

Not much is disclosed of Oh's alleged sexual misconduct, but the alleged victim claims there was unwanted touching when she met Oh in 2017, according to local outlets JTBC and News1.

Police accepted the crime report and probed the incident but decided not to transfer the case. However, prosecutors in the Suwon district, which is located south of Seoul, began reinvestigating the case in 2022 following the alleged victim’s formal objection, according to the district court in the city of Seongnam.

In a November 2022 interview with local newspaper News1, Oh denied any wrongdoing and referred to the victim’s claim as "one sided." He told the local broadcaster JTBC that he "held her hand in order to give directions around the lake" but denied the sexual misconduct allegations

In South Korea, court and police documents concerning sexual crimes are unavailable by law to prevent disclosing any information about the victims.

Oh has pleaded not guilty to the indecent assault charges.

ABC News has not been able to reach Oh for comment.

If the Suwon District Court judge rules him guilty on Friday, Oh would be fined up to $12,000 or 10 years in prison.

Oh is a veteran actor in South Korea’s theater scene, making his debut in 1963. He became well-known internationally as an elderly contestant in "Squid Game." His performance as Player 001 earned him an Emmy nomination and Golden Globe win for best supporting actor, which was a first for a Korean actor.

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

US to gain access to more bases in the Philippines with eye on China

Joeal Calupitan - Pool/Getty Images

(MANILA, Philippines) -- Seeking to deter China's ambitions in the western Pacific, the U.S. and the Philippines have reached an agreement that will give the U.S. military access to four additional bases in the Philippines.

The agreement is the latest sign that both countries are reestablishing their military cooperation as concerns continue about China's claims in the South China Sea and their stated intent to reclaim Taiwan, which it considers to be a breakaway province.

"That's just part of our efforts to modernize our alliance, and these efforts are especially important as the People's Republic of China continues to advance its illegitimate claims in the West Philippine Sea" Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told reporters during a visit to Manila, where the new deal was announced.

The new deal means that the U.S. military will now have access to nine Philippine military bases under the 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement where they can construct new facilities, preposition equipment, and rotate troops for training purposes.

The locations of the four additional bases that will be accessible to U.S. military personnel have not yet been finalized and were not not disclosed under the agreement.

But there has been speculation that some are located on the northern island of Luzon, where Manila is located, that at its northernmost tip the island is about 200 miles from Taiwan.

The U.S. military has focused its attention on redirecting its military presence and priority to the Pacific where China is seen by the Pentagon as its "pacing challenge" in the region.

Of mutual concern to the U.S. and the Philippines are China's increasingly aggressive military exercises around Taiwan and its territorial claims in the South China Sea over the past decade, most notably in 2012 when China seized Scarborough Shoal from the Philippines.

Those concerns about China's ambitions in the region spurred renewed military contacts between the U.S. and the Philippines that led to the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement in 2014 that granted U.S. access to five Philippine military bases.

The Philippines used to be home to large U.S. military bases including Subic Bay Naval Base and Clark Air Force Base, but those facilities were closed in the early 1990s.

Currently, the U.S. has no permanent presence and about 500 military personnel rotate regularly into the country for training.

While both countries have a long-standing military alliance, the U.S. military relationship with the Philippines deteriorated under former Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte who courted China.

That relationship has improved since President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. took over in mid-2022.

Austin stressed on Thursday that the new agreement allowing access to four more bases does not mean that the U.S. is permanently stationing forces in the Philippines.

"It's about providing access that allows us to increase our training opportunities with our partners, our allies here," he told reporters in Manila. "It's about having the ability to respond in a more effective fashion as we're faced -- as we're collectively faced with humanitarian assistance issues or natural -- or disaster response issues."

"This is an opportunity to increase our effectiveness, increase interoperability. It is not about permanent basing," he said.

"But it is a big deal. It's a really big deal, in that, you know, it provides us the opportunity, again, to interact a bit more in an effective way," he added.

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

What to know about the Wagner group, a 'brutal' Russian military group fighting in Ukraine

Maksim Konstantinov/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

(MOSCOW) -- Nearly one year after Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the U.S. is increasingly focused on denouncing what it calls a "brutal" paramilitary group aiding Russian forces there.

The Wagner group is a private military organization run by an ally of Russian leader Vladimir Putin with tens of thousands of fighters, according to U.S. officials, and it has also operated in Syria and in various African countries.

Last week, the U.S. labeled the group a "significant transnational criminal organization" and levied new sanctions, while human rights observers this week said they suspected Wagner fighters were linked to the mass killing of people in Mali last year.

Government reports, statements from U.S. officials and insights from experts, as well as other sources, shed light on the Wagner group's history and goals, its alleged wrongdoings and its importance to Russia -- in Ukraine and elsewhere in the world.

How is the Wagner group involved in Russia's invasion of Ukraine?

According to Catrina Doxsee, an expert on the Wagner group from the nonprofit Center for Strategic and International Studies, Wagner was first involved in the Ukrainian-Russian conflict in 2014, when Russia illegally annexed the Crimean Peninsula.

Today, there are an estimated 50,000 fighters from the Wagner group in Ukraine, White House spokesman John Kirby said last month.

Around 40,000 of the fighters are believed to be convicts, according to Doxsee, which could lead to more allegations of human rights abuses. A video circulating online appears to show the group's leader, businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin, asking prisoners to join the Wagner group.

"You have individuals coming in who are less experienced, less trained and who are kept in line in a much less efficient way by their commanders," Doxsee said.

In September, a senior U.S. defense official downplayed the success of Wagner recruiting prisoners, with some felons declining to join given Ukraine's success in its counteroffensive.

Other Wagner fighters have reportedly been drawn in for financial reasons.

Recent satellite images show a growing Wagner burial site, illustrating the grim chances for convicted fighters on the front lines. Another recent video from Russian media outlet RIA Novosti showed Prigozhin -- who previously claimed he had no role with the group, a position he has since reversed -- visiting the cemetery.

Kirby told reporters in December that Wagner has received weapons it purchased from North Korea to be used in Ukraine.

Despite what the U.S. says is the Wagner group's significant presence in Ukraine, such mercenaries are technically illegal under Russian law and the Kremlin has long avoided discussing the use of contracted fighters.

Doxsee said Russia's purported ban on private military companies (PMC) like the Wagner group allows the government a necessary distance from its operations.

"They are technically all operating in violation of Russian law by means of even participating in PMC activities, and ultimately in the mind of the Russian government they are more expendable," Doxsee said.

She said the Kremlin is likely able to leverage the group's illegal status: If Wagner turns, the government has the full ability to punish them.

Other countries, including the U.S., heavily rely on contractors for some military duties, from logistics to training.

Who is in charge of the Wagner group?

Dmitry Utkin, a former Russian officer, and financier Yevgeny Prigozhin started the Wagner group, which emerged around 2014, toward the beginning of the Ukraine-Russia conflict on the Crimean Peninsula, according to reports published by the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point.

The group's moniker reportedly comes from a nickname for Utkin -- or is a reference to the composer Richard Wagner, beloved by Hitler. Prigozhin is known in the West by the nickname "Putin's chef," because of how he and Russia's president met decades ago, when Prigozhin was a restauranteur.

Reports in the Combating Terrorism Center have also noted some disagreement over Wagner's operations, with some arguing it is less of a formal business entity (like American military contractors) and more of a movement.

Prigozhin denied involvement in the group until late last year when he confirmed his role, according to the Associated Press. He has since spoken repeatedly about it, CNN reported last month, casting the effort much differently than the American assessment that it is criminal.

"The fact that Prigozhin has been so open since the fall of 2022 about his connection with Wagner really indicates that he's feeling extremely confident and secure in his current position in his political power and in Putin's trust," Doxsee said.

In 2018, U.S. prosecutors charged Prigozhin for his suspected role in funding the Internet Research Agency (IRA), which the U.S. described as a Russian "troll farm" that sought to use digital campaigns to increase political and social tensions in the U.S.

The Department of Justice accused the IRA of conspiring to "defraud the United States... for the purpose of interfering with the U.S. political and electoral processes, including the presidential election of 2016."

The complaint described tactics like posing as U.S. citizens and creating false online personas.

A Kremlin spokesman at the time said the case was "absolutely unsubstantiated."

Last year, Prigozhin said on social media that "we have interfered [in elections], are interfering and will interfere," the AP reported.

Wagner's role in other countries

Beyond Ukraine, the Wagner group has been active in several African and Middle Eastern countries where it has participated in regional conflicts, exploited resources and spread Russia's influence, according to the reports published by the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point.

Doxsee said that exploiting the natural resources of vulnerable nations helps the group deal with financial punishments like the U.S. sanctions.

"Wagner's ability to mine for gold and smuggle it out of the country has actually allowed Wagner and oligarchs like Prigozhin and others in Moscow to soften the blow of some of the Western sanctions," Doxsee said.

A 2020 statement from the U.S. Department of Defense said there was evidence that the Wagner group violated a U.N. arms embargo and "laid land mines and improvised explosive devices in civilian areas in and around Tripoli, Lebanon, without regard to the safety of civilians."

The Wagner group also moved troops to Syria in 2015 to support the Assad regime during the ongoing Syrian civil war, according to Combating Terrorism Center at West Point.

In 2021, the International Federation for Human Rights and others helped file suit against Wagner group fighters, alleging they were responsible for a "murder committed with extreme cruelty" after a Syrian man was killed in 2017. (The status of the complaint is not clear.)

There have been additional accusations from non-governmental organizations of human rights abuses in Mali, where government forces have been working with Wagner fighters, advocates say.

"We are disturbed by the apparent increased outsourcing of traditional military functions to the so-called Wagner group in various military operations [in Mali]," human rights observers said on Tuesday in a statement released by the United Nations. They described "gross human rights abuses and possible war crimes and crimes against humanity" since 2021.

Other countries with a history of Wagner group deployments include Mozambique and Madagascar.

Prigozhin claimed in a statement last week that the Wagner group is essential to many African nations.

"There are presidents to whom I gave my word that I would defend them," Prigozhin said. "If I now withdraw one-hundred, two-hundred or five-hundred fighters from there, then [these countries] will simply cease to exist."

State Department Principal Deputy Spokesperson Vedant Patel, in a briefing last week, did not say whether the U.S. would take action against countries working with sanctioned people or entities like Prigozhin or the Wagner group.

What is the U.S. response to the Wagner group?

Kirby, the White House spokesman, said last month that "we will work relentlessly to identify, disrupt, expose and target those who are assisting Wagner."

Last Thursday, the U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned the Wagner group and related entities, labeling them a "significant transnational criminal organization" and accusing them of human rights abuses in the Central African Republic.

In total, the U.S. Treasury sanctioned nine people and 14 entities in Russia, China, the Central African Republic and the United Arab Emirates, mostly with alleged Wagner connections. The Treasury also identified two yachts and one aircraft that are now considered blocked by the U.S. government.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement the sanctions support "our goal to degrade Moscow's capacity to wage war against Ukraine."

Past sanctions from the Treasury Department went to Pregozhin, M Finans, Lobaye Invest, Concord Group and the Internet Research Agency.

ABC News' Victoria Beaulé, Layla Ferris, Mariam Khan, Christopher Looft, Luis Martinez and Max Uzol contributed to this report.

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Namibia reports record rise in rhino poaching

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(LONDON) -- The Namibian government has announced that the number of Rhino’s poached in the Southern African nation reached a record-high in 2022 -- rising by 93% since 2021.

New data from Namibia’s Ministry of Environment, Forestry and Tourism shows that 87 rhinos were killed in 2022 -- 61 Black Rhinos and 26 White Rhinos -- compared to 45 in the previous years. Elephant poaching figures however have “steeply” declined, falling from 101 in 2015 to only four in 2022.

Most of the recorded poaching incidents occurred in Etosha, Namibia’s largest National Park.

“We note with serious concern that our flagship park, Etosha National Park is a poaching hotspot,” Romeo Muyanda, chief public relations officer of the Ministry of Environment, Forestry and Tourism, said in a statement.

In June 2022, Namibia’s Minister of Environment and Tourism announced it was investigating staff at Etosha National Park staff, some of whom were suspected of working with poaching syndicates who had recently killed 11 Rhinos in the park. Speaking at a press conference, Environment Minister Pohamba Shifeta said the perpetrators had been arrested: “This is not a normal incident of 11 rhinos poached in such a short time.”

The new data has raised concerns among conservationists across Africa; Namibia being home to the third-largest Black Rhino population on the continent. According to Save the Rhino International -- a Rhino conservation charity -- there are only 6,195 Black Rhinos and 15,942 white rhinos remaining in the world.

Speaking to ABC News, the International Rhino Foundation (IRF) said they share Namibia’s “serious concern” of the rise in poaching.

“Namibia has become a stronghold for Rhinos in Africa with the largest population of Black Rhinos and the second largest population of White Rhinos in all of Africa,” said Nina Fascione, executive director of the IRF.

“Poaching efforts are masterminded by well-funded criminal syndicates seeking to push rhino horn onto the Black Market to fund other illegal activities [and] as poaching efforts increase around the continent, white rhinos -- the most populous of the rhino species -- continue to decline in numbers,” Fascione said.

The poaching of Rhinos -- one of the world’s most endangered species -- saw a brief dramatic decrease across Southern Africa during the global COVID-19 pandemic, credited largely to pandemic lockdowns which reduced activity in national parks. However, as the world has opened up, poaching statistics have revealed a worrying upward trend.

“Travel restrictions during COVID slowed down the poaching a bit but now we see a worrying rise, not only in Namibia but also here in South Africa” Hanno Husch, CEO of Rhino Revolution -- a South-Africa based Rhino conservation charity -- told ABC News. “A possible explanation for the sudden increase of poaching could be the face that there are hardly any Rhinos left in the Kruger National Park.”

Kruger National Park is South Africa’s largest national park, home to one of Africa’s largest game reserves.

“Due to the fact that there are hardly any rhino’s left in Kruger National Park -- which has lost over 70 percent of their population over the last decade -- syndicates are now targeting Etosha, which is four times the size of Kruger,” Husch said.

Paul Naden, conservationist and director of Saving the Survivors told ABC that cartels and gangs trying to meet “relentless demand” for Rhino horn -- largely from Vietnam and China -- are driving up poaching numbers. Rhino horns are often used in Asia for traditional medicines and remedies, as well as being used as a status symbol to display wealth.

“As the number of rhinos diminishes, the value of the horn increases, further fueling this demand,” Naden said.

“A worrying state of affairs for Namibia and it should be a wakeup call to the world,” he added.

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Canadian province decriminalizes drugs to fight overdose deaths

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(VANCOUVER, Canada) -- The Canadian province of British Columbia said it's decriminalizing small amounts of some drugs to help combat the number of drug overdose deaths.

During the three-year pilot program, which started Jan. 31, no one 18 years and older will be charged if caught in possession of 2.5 grams of certain illegal drugs, including heroin, meth, ecstasy, among others, for personal use.

"We know criminalization drives people to use alone. Given the increasingly toxic drug supply, using alone can be fatal," Jennifer Whiteside, B.C.'s Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, said in a statement Monday. "Decriminalizing people who use drugs breaks down the fear and shame associated with substance use and ensures they feel safer reaching out for life-saving supports. This is a vital step to get more people connected to the services and supports as the Province continues to add them at an unprecedented rate."

At least 2,272 people died of an overdose in the province in 2022, officials said. At least 2,306 people died in 2021.

The number of "illicit drug toxicity deaths" was about 6.4 deaths per day in November and December last year, authorities said.

"The shocking number of lives lost to the overdose crisis requires bold actions and significant policy change. I have thoroughly reviewed and carefully considered both the public health and public safety impacts of this request," Carolyn Bennett, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions of Canada, said in a statement. "Eliminating criminal penalties for those carrying small amounts of illicit drugs for personal use will reduce stigma and harm and provide another tool for British Columbia to end the overdose crisis."

While certain drugs are decriminalized, Bennett said the exemption doesn't mean they are legal. It means adults will no longer be arrested, charged or have their drugs seized. Instead, police will offer information on available health and social supports and will help with referrals when requested, officials said.

Possession of any drugs will continue to be a criminal offense on school grounds and at child care facilities, officials said.

"Decriminalization is an important part of an integrated approach, along with safer supply and public-health supports, to divert persons who use drugs away from the criminal justice system and toward health services and pathways of care because substance use is a health matter, not a criminal one," Deputy Chief Const. Fiona Wilson, Vancouver Police Department, said in a statement Monday. "This approach has the potential to address harms associated with substance use, reduce stigma, prevent overdose deaths and increase access to health and social services."

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What we've learned from the latest charges in plot to kill Haitian president

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(MIAMI) -- But the four indictments laid out in federal court in Miami on Wednesday tell the very real story of a presidential assassination that has thrown Haiti into chaos for nearly two years, leaving the Haitian people with a feeble government and deadly challenges—gang rule, cholera and hunger chief among them, just miles from American shores.

In total, seven suspects are now in U.S. custody and facing charges related to the July 2021 assassination of Jovenel Moïse, including the four arraigned Wednesday: Haitian-American citizens James Solages, Joseph Vincent and Christian Emmanuel Sanon, and Colombian citizen Germán Rivera García.

In contrast, the case in Haiti itself has yet to yield any indictments and is now on its fifth judge amid a string of death threats. The narrative of the case by the government of acting President Ariel Henry, installed just weeks after Moïse's assassination with U.S. and European backing, has faced some skepticism, fueled further by this week's charges in Florida's Southern District.

Sanon, for example, was alleged by Haitian authorities to be a key player at the center of the assassination plot—was arrested days after the killing.

But notably, the Justice Department didn't charge him with conspiracy to commit murder or kidnapping. In fact, he's instead facing a separate criminal complaint of smuggling charges.

That's not to say that U.S. investigators believe he wasn't involved in the plot. The Justice Department said Tuesday that Sanon sought to build his own "private military" force in Haiti and wanted to replace Moïse as president.

But the criminal complaint against the other three suspects alleged that one month before the assassination, Sanon was no longer seen as a "viable" replacement for Moïse, who critics accused of an illegal power grab.

It's not the first time doubts have been cast on the Henry government's narrative of the case. When Sanon was arrested in July 2021, associates were saying then that he was set up, according to The Associated Press.

"Sanon told [an associate] he was approached by people claiming to represent the U.S. State and Justice Departments, who wanted to install him as president. He said the plan was for Moïse to be arrested, not killed, and Sanon would not have participated if he knew Moïse would be assassinated," the AP reported at the time.

Instead of Sanon, Solages and others turned to a former Supreme Court justice, Windelle Coq Thélot, allegedly securing her signature on a plea for material support to arrest Moïse made just weeks before his killing. She remains on the run, wanted by Haitian authorities.

Solages prepared that document in late June during a trip to southern Florida, requesting guns and other equipment from a private security firm and helping coordinate a team of Colombian mercenaries for the job, including Rivera.

At that point, most of the group reportedly believed the plan was to kidnap Moïse, including an outrageous plot to steal a plane and whisk him away from Port-au-Prince's airport. Ultimately, that plot "did not go forward when the conspirators failed to obtain the plane and necessary weapons for the operation," according to court documents.

Afterward, the plot shifted to killing the controversial, embattled president, but it's unclear who actually knew that was the plan, even up until the day before it was to be executed.

As guns and equipment were being distributed on July 6, 2021, according to court documents, Solages "falsely told those gathered that it was a 'CIA Operation,' and, in substance, said that the mission was to kill President Moïse. During a jailhouse interview one year after the assassination, Vincent also told U.S. investigators that members "accepted" the idea of killing Moïse only "a few days prior," per court documents.

But Solages told investigators at the same time that he knew "by mid-June" that killing Moïse was the plan—fueling suspicions that the others could have been set up or that other individuals were pulling the strings.

Why the plot shifted to killing Moïse and why his presidential guards didn't better protect him remain key questions, left unanswered even after seven indictments in U.S. federal court.

Nineteen months after Moïse's murder, Haiti's government remains in chaos. There are no elected officials left, after a group of senators finished their terms last month. That includes Henry, seen as illegitimate by many Haitians because he was put in office by a power-sharing agreement, with U.S. and European backing. He had been named Moïse's prime minister just days before the assassination, but had not yet been installed—and to some, his appointment was unconstitutional because he had not been elected.

As governance craters, gangs have commanded even greater authority, by controlling more territory, including in the capital. Last fall, gangs were able to shut the country down, cutting it off from needed fuel and food imports.

The one institution the U.S., and allies like Canada, have continued to support is the national police force. But last week, police rioted because of a lack of local support, especially after gangs killed over a dozen officers in as many days. Those protests targeted Henry's offices and the airport as Henry returned from Argentina, briefly impeding him from leaving the facility.

The chaos has fueled a public health challenge, too. Cholera is once again spreading, killing approximately 500 people in the last four months and infecting over 25,000, according to the Haitian Ministry of Public Health and Population.

The United Nations has even warned of famine, which by its definition means when people have started dying of starvation.

"It's difficult to believe that a mere two hours' flight from Miami, a staggering 4.7 million people—half of Haiti's population—are in the throes of a food crisis," Jean-Martin Bauer, the head of the World Food Program in Haiti, said in December.

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Iranian exile wounded in demonstrations against regime speaks out

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(NEW YORK) -- Iranians protesting their country's regime have been putting their lives on the line to call out injustices and, even in the face of violence, say they will continue to raise their voices.

Saman, who fled the country after losing an eye due to a paintball gun when he was shot during protests, shared his story with ABC News and said that many are fed up with the oppressive show of force by the Iranian government in the last few months.

"Every protester who goes to the rallies in the street knows that he could be killed by a bullet…and even his body could go missing…but still everybody attends the protests just with this hope in their heart that they could send the Islamic Republic out of our country," Saman, who asked ABC News to use only his first name for his protection, said.

And as the demonstrations continue across the world, human rights groups and others who have survived the Iranian government's violence fear that things could get more bloody and called on more nations to act.

The recent protests began in the fall following the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old who was in the custody of the morality police after she was arrested for not properly wearing a hijab.

The protesters have filled the streets of Iran shouting her name and calling out the Iranian regime's authoritarian rules.

"The state did not expect that protests over the death of a woman from the Kurdish minority would spread into the whole country," Roya Boroumand, the director of Abdul-Rahman Berman, Center for Human Rights in Iran, told ABC News.

However, the government has responded with extreme violence and, in some cases, executing protesters in public.

Boroumand's group has been tracking the number of executions and arrests in Iran and estimates that more than 519 people were killed last year. By comparison, 317 killings took place in 2021, she said.

Boroumand added that protesters who are arrested are subject to beatings, torture and even rape by the authorities.

"We don't know how much of this is an attempt of the state to deter women from coming out or to encourage families to prevent their children to come out," she said.

Boroumand said that families of the detained protesters who were killed in custody are being blackmailed into admitting their loved ones killed security force members in exchange for their bodies. She noted that the authorities are using gymnasiums to house detainees because of the lack of space in jails.

Boroumand said another tactic used by Iranian police is to target people's faces with pellets, which could result in them losing their eyesight.

Saman told ABC News that he was a victim of this tactic.

He said that an Iranian officer shot him in the eye with the paintball gun while he was attending a protest in Valiasr Square in September 2022. Saman was hospitalized and lost his left eye.

While recuperating in the hospital, Saman said he found out that the police were looking for his hospital room number.

"Fortunately I was in the examination room and, with my friend’s help, I managed to get myself to the hospital's yard and escaped," he said. "By leaving the country, I decided to make my face living evidence for the world to see the Islamic Republic of Iran's crimes closely."

Boroumand and other human rights groups have called on world leaders to do more to stop the Iranian government from executing and intimidating its citizens.

The Biden administration has placed sanctions on Iranian officials.

"The United States continues to support the people of Iran in the face of this brutal repression, and we are rallying growing international consensus to hold the regime accountable,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in December.

In the meantime, experts say the Iranian protesters will continue to raise their voices against the oppression.

"We are all human, regardless of our religion and our nationality," Saman said. "We could not be silent against the oppression."

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Radioactive capsule found in Australia could have been deadly with prolonged exposure, expert says

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(PERTH, Australia) -- The health effects of coming into contact with a radioactive capsule no bigger than a coin that was lost in Western Australia -- and has since been found -- could potentially be severe, according to experts.

Caesium-137 is a human-made fission project often used in radiological laboratories as well as in industrial settings, such as within gauges in mining operations, Angela Di Fulvio, an assistant professor of nuclear engineering at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, told ABC News.

The tiny capsule filled with Caesium-137, at 8 millimeters tall and 6 millimeters in diameter, was found on the roadside of a remote highway Wednesday afternoon, six days after it went missing in Western Australia.

Emergency responders and radiation specialists were frantically searching for the capsule along a 22-mile busy freight route in the regions of Pilbara, Midwest Gascoyne, Goldfields-Midlands and Perth Metropolitan, according to the Department of Fire and Emergency Services Western Australia.

Search parties drove north and south along the Great Northern Highway at slow speeds in hopes of finding the capsule, the DFES said in a statement. DFES specialist search teams also used radiation survey meters to detect the gamma rays and radiation levels to try and locate the capsule, according to the agency.

The capsule was lost during transportation from the Rio Tinto mine in north Newman to the northeastern suburbs of Perth, an 870-mile journey.

The capsule contained materials that are "a million times more active" than those used in a lab, Di Fulvio said, describing it as a "very active" source. At 1.665 millisieverts per hour, the unit of measurement used for radiation, coming into 1 meter of the source is comparable to about 17 chest X-rays, Di Fulvio said.

Prolonged close exposure to the capsule -- for instance, if someone were to have picked it up and put it in their pocket -- could cause severe, and even potentially deadly, health effects, within hours, Di Fulvio said.

Erythema, or reddening of the skin, would be among the first symptoms, and the severity of the effects increases dramatically with exposure time, she added.

Exposure to the radioactive substance could also cause radiation burns or radiation sickness, according to the DFES.

Officials warned the public to stay at least 5 meters, or about 16 feet, away from it, and not to touch it, if they saw something that could be the material.

The capsule had been packaged on Jan. 10 to be sent to Perth for repair, and the package containing the capsule arrived in Perth on Jan. 16, where it was unloaded and stored in the licensed service provider's secure radiation store, according to the DFES.

When the gauge was unpacked for inspection on Jan. 25, the inspectors found that the gauge was broken apart, the DFES said. One of the four mounting bolts was missing, as were the source of the radiation itself and all screws on the gauge.

An investigation will look into how the capsule was packaged and transported.

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Fighting ramps-up in eastern Ukraine in 'devastating WW1-like environment'

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(DONETSK REGION, Eastern Ukraine) -- Russia has escalated its attacks on Ukrainian positions in eastern Ukraine as Russian President Vladimir Putin presses for gains on the battlefield ahead of the one-year anniversary of the war towards the end of this month.

Ukrainian and Russian forces remain locked in a brutal battle in and around the eastern city of Bakhmut.

On Wednesday, the Ukrainian army said its positions in that area had been shelled 151 times during the previous 24 hours. Russian claims that its forces had surrounded the city were denied by Ukrainian officials.

However, Russia has also started a more sustained assault to the south on another frontline town called Vuhledar, according to both Ukrainian and Western officials.

Images circulating on social media show that the town has been pummeled by Russian artillery and Western officials said Russia had made “creeping gains” in that area.

Russia’s offensive in Vuhledar, they thought, could be an attempt to force the Ukrainians to move resources away from the battle in Bakhmut.

“It’s a devastating First World War-like environment” Western officials told journalists at a briefing on Tuesday, adding that both sides were sustaining “really heavy casualties."

Medics at a Ukrainian army field hospital situated a few miles from the frontlines in eastern Ukraine told ABC News last Thursday that they are currently receiving “dozens of casualties” every day.

As Russia attempts to push forward, it has recently enjoyed some “tactical successes” in eastern Ukraine, according to Western officials.

However, the officials claimed there is still broad “parity” between Ukrainian and Russian forces in the battle zone and argued that Russia still does not have the means to commit significant additional resources into the fight to tip the balance.

That said, Ukraine and its Western allies are in a race against time.

The U.S. and its NATO partners are working to get new weaponry, including advanced Western tanks into Ukraine.

More than a hundred German-made Leopard 2 tanks and British Challenger 2 tanks could take “months” to reach the battlefield, say officials.

Ukrainian forces are also potentially more vulnerable to Russian attacks now because some of its best soldiers are resting and training on new Western weaponry ahead of a likely Ukrainian offensive in the coming weeks or months.

The Russians are also preparing for an “imminent offensive,” said the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) in one of its recent reports, stating that its assessment came from “western, Ukrainian and Russian sources."

However, the uptick in Russian attacks in eastern Ukraine did not mean a major Russian offensive was already underway, Western officials told journalists.

If Russia wants to launch a successful offensive, it will need to mobilize more soldiers, via a fresh draft, the officials claimed.

“The Russians' ability to supply their troops and provide appropriate logistics to their forces in the battle zone limits their ability to change the course of the conflict," they told reporters on Tuesday.

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US accuses Russia of violating key nuclear treaty

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(WASHINGTON) -- The State Department has informed Congress that Russia is no longer meeting obligations set by the only nuclear arms control pact shared by two powers, putting a rare area of cooperation between Washington and Moscow at risk.

"Russia is not complying with its obligation under the New START Treaty to facilitate inspection activities on its territory," a spokesperson for the department said in a statement. "Russia's refusal to facilitate inspection activities prevents the United States from exercising important rights under the treaty and threatens the viability of U.S.-Russian nuclear arms control."

The New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, commonly known as New START, is an agreement between the U.S. and Russia that sets limits on strategic arms. The terms of the deal dictate that those restrictions be verified through on-site inspections, data exchanges and other monitoring measures.

Both countries agreed that on-site inspections should be suspended during the pandemic, but while Washington expressed a willingness to resume the practice in the summer of 2022, Russia continued to shut off access to its nuclear arsenal, claiming that travel restrictions imposed by the U.S. in response to the invasion of Ukraine unfairly hindered its ability to conduct reciprocal inspections.

The State Department spokesperson disputed that claim.

"Russia has a clear path for returning to full compliance," the person said. "The United States remains ready to work constructively with Russia to fully implement the New START Treaty."

As of Tuesday afternoon, the Kremlin had not responded to the U.S. accusation.

The New START treaty, which has been in force since 2011 and is set to run through February 2026, also stipulates a schedule for the parties to hold diplomatic meetings on renewing the pact and related topics. Russia abruptly called off scheduled talks in November 2022 and as so far refused to set a new date -- another example of Moscow's failure to comply, according to the Biden administration.

The State Department's declaration to Congress comes at the behest of Republicans on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, who issued a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, and Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines last week expressing concern that Russia has failed to uphold key tenets of the treaty.

But until recently, the department maintained that Russia continued to meet at least some of its obligations, including by providing data and sharing notifications.

The New START treaty caps both U.S. and Russia deployed strategic nuclear warheads and bombs at 1,550 and caps each power's deployed intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarine-launched ballistic missiles, and heavy bombers assigned to nuclear missions at 700.

The terms of the agreement also provide for 18 on-site inspections each year for both U.S. and Russian authorities.

"The United States continues to view nuclear arms control as an indispensable means of strengthening U.S., ally, and global security," the State Department said. "It is all the more important during times of tension when guardrails and clarity matter most."

However, when it comes to Russia's invasion of Ukraine, speculation and fear from Western officials regarding the potential use of weapons of mass discussion by Moscow has centered around tactical nuclear weapons, which are not covered by the treaty.

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