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'I wanted to take off my skin': Ukrainian women recount rape by Russian soldiers

Antonio Hugo Photo/Getty Images

(LONDON) -- The three Russian soldiers arrived at Victoria's house claiming they needed to seize her cell phone. But they weren't looking for phones.

Victoria, a 42-year-old Ukrainian woman, told ABC News she and another woman, a neighbor, were raped by two of the Russian soldiers occupying her village near Kyiv in March.

ABC News spoke to the two women who agreed to talk about what they say happened to them, on condition that their location and last names not be revealed.

Another soldier, a commanding officer who was not involved in the assault, threatened Victoria, she says.

"He looked at me and said, 'You see, our boys have had a drink and want to have fun,'" Victoria recounts. "I understood that something terrible would happen."

Two of the soldiers took the women to a house converted into headquarters for the Russian occupiers and raped them, they say.

That neighbor, 44-year-old Natalya, recounted the events to ABC News.

"He says, 'do you want everything to be fine with your son? So get upstairs and do as I tell you,'" Natalya recalled, describing her encounter with one of the Russian soldiers she says raped her. "He was like an animal…And that rifle was hanging around and swinging."

Natalya says she later learned the soldiers killed her husband after she was taken away. Its unclear how many soldiers or which ones were involved in the killing. The family buried her husband the next day.

The two Russian soldiers the women say raped them have not yet been identified but face international arrest warrants, according to Kateryna Duchenko, the Ukrainian prosecutor in charge of sexual violence cases committed by Russian soldiers. Both cases are being investigated with slim chances of the suspects being taken under custody or doing any prison time, she said.

Stories of rape and other atrocities at the hands of Russian troops are not unheard of in small towns and suburbs of Kyiv. Residents of Bucha and Borodyanka have reported human rights violations including rape, murder and torture by Russian forces during the invasion.

Russian authorities have not responded to ABC News' requests for comment on the cases.

"The last case [we identified] was in occupied territory of Zaporizhzhia region, where allegedly 10 Russian soldiers raped a woman," Duchenko said.

Communication with residents inside Russian-occupied territories is extremely difficult, making the investigation and prosecution of these cases nearly impossible, Duchenko said.

"We know she is alive and that she had medical treatment and those details are all we've got," Duchenko said on the limited information in the case in Zaporizhzhia.

The United Nations reported in June it had collected 124 reports of alleged acts of conflict-related sexual violence but qualified that number as "the tip of the iceberg" and added that it did "not reflect the scale of sexual violence in the context of Russia's war against Ukraine."

Victoria and Natalya say they are now undergoing counseling with a psychologist about their trauma.

"I wanted to take off my skin and throw it away," Victoria says. "The person I was before the war is no longer there. I became more aggressive. I began to fight more for my own."

Natalya says she is still coming to terms with the assault.

"Many people have asked me, why aren't you crying, why haven't you gone crazy?" she said.

In June, Ukrainian authorities said they opened the first trial on sexual violence committed by a Russian soldier, according to the Kyiv Post. The suspect will be tried in absentia.

Duchenko's office says it is working on prosecuting two other cases of sexual violence committed by Russian soldiers in addition to the case opened in June. The suspects will also be tried in absentia, since they are not in Ukrainian custody.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Russia-Ukraine live updates: Russian strikes kill over a dozen civilians in southeast

ANATOLII STEPANOV/AFP via Getty Images

(NEW YORK) -- Russian President Vladimir Putin's "special military operation" into neighboring Ukraine began on Feb. 24, with Russian forces invading from Belarus, to the north, and Russia, to the east. Ukrainian troops have offered "stiff resistance," according to U.S. officials.

The Russian military has since launched a full-scale ground offensive in eastern Ukraine's disputed Donbas region, capturing the strategic port city of Mariupol and securing a coastal corridor to the Moscow-annexed Crimean Peninsula.

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

Aug 12, 2:28 PM EDT
'They treat us like captives': Exiled Zaporizhzhia manager on conditions at plant

An exiled manager at the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant told ABC News that the Ukrainian staff is treated "like captives."

Oleg, who asked to be referred by a pseudonym, said he felt threatened by the Russian soldiers.

"They didn't say, 'I'm going to shoot you now,' but they always carry guns and assault rifles with them," said Oleg, who managed one of 80 units at the plant but was able to leave last month. "And when an assault rifle or a gun has a cocked trigger, I consider it as a threat."

Amid reported shelling in the vicinity of the plant, Oleg said he was primarily concerned about its spent fuel containers, "which are in a precarious position, and they are not shielded well."

-ABC News Dragana Jovanovic, Britt Clennett, Nataliya Kushnir and Sohel Uddin
 

Aug 11, 1:30 PM EDT
UN secretary-general calls for all military activities around nuclear power plant to 'cease immediately'

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is "calling for all military activities" around the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Plant in southern Ukraine "to cease immediately," and for armies not "to target its facilities or surroundings."

Ukraine's nuclear regulator Energoatom said Russian forces shelled the plant for a third time on Thursday, hitting close to the first power unit. Earlier on Thursday, Energoatom said five rockets struck the area around the commandant's office, close to where the radioactive material is stored.

Yevgeny Balitsky, the Russian-installed interim governor of Zaporizhzhya Oblast, issued a statement claiming Ukrainian forces struck the plant, hitting close to an area with radioactive material.

Guterres said he's appealed to all parties to "exercise common sense" and take any actions that could endanger the physical integrity, safety or security of the largest nuclear power plant in Europe.

"Instead of de-escalation, over the past several days there have been reports of further deeply worrying incidents that could, if they continue, lead to disaster," he said, adding that he’s "gravely concerned."

-ABC News' Christine Theodorou, Fidel Pavlenko, Natalya Kushnir and Natalia Shumskaia

Aug 10, 10:06 AM EDT
Russian strike kills at least 13 civilians in southeastern Ukraine

Russian shelling killed at least 13 civilians in eastern Ukraine's Dnipropetrovsk region early Wednesday morning, local authorities said.

At least 11 others were injured, with five people remaining in critical condition, according to Dnipropetrovsk Oblast Gov. Valentyn Reznichenko, who said Russian forces fired 80 rockets at residential areas in the region.

"They deliberately and sneakily struck when people were sleeping in their homes," Reznichenko said in a statement Wednesday.

Russian shells hit civilian objects in the region's southern Nikopol district from the area of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, which is occupied by Russian troops some 30 miles away, according to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky's chief of staff, Andriy Yermak.

More than 20 high-rise buildings, two schools, a city council building and several other administrative buildings in the city of Marhanets were damaged in the attack, Yermak said.

The city of Nikopol and the surrounding areas have been subject to regular shelling for several weeks. Russian forces fired 120 MLRS missiles at Nikopol early Tuesday, damaging several residential and commercial buildings.

Russian missiles also struck the southern city of Mykolaiv on Wednesday, injuring three people, including a child.

Meanwhile, explosions and casualties were also reported in the eastern Sumy region on Wednesday morning.

-ABC News' Edward Szekeres, Yuriy Zaliznyak and Max Uzol

Aug 10, 7:28 AM EDT
Woman killed in Russian strike on outskirts of Zaporizhzhia, mayor says

Russian forces shelled the outskirts of Zaporizhzhia overnight, killing at least one civilian, the city's acting mayor, Anatoly Kurtev, said Wednesday.

The strike on the Kushugum community left three homes destroyed and almost 30 others damaged. The civilian who died was a woman, according to Kurtev.

That same night, Ukrainian troops defending the Zaporizhzhia region shot down two Russian missiles, Kurtev said, citing "preliminary information."

"Take care of yourself and your loved ones," the acting mayor said in a statement on Telegram. "Don't ignore the air alarm!"

Aug 09, 5:17 PM EDT

Ukraine behind attack in Crimea, source says; 1 dead

A source familiar with the operation confirmed to ABC News that Ukraine was behind a Tuesday explosion in Russia-annexed Crimea. One person died from the blasts in Novofedorivka in Crimea, Russia's semi-official Interfax reported, citing Crimean official Sergei Aksyonov.

This is the first major attack in Crimea since the war began in February.

-ABC News’ Britt Clennett and Dada Jovanovic

Aug 08, 2:20 PM EDT

US says 80,000 Russians may have died or been injured in Ukraine conflict

The U.S. estimates that 70,000 to 80,000 Russians have been killed or wounded since the start of the war in Ukraine, Colin Kahl, the undersecretary for defense for policy at the Department of Defense, told reporters Monday.

"There's a lot of fog in war, but, you know, I think it's safe to suggest that the Russians have probably taken 70 or 80,000 casualties in less than six months," Kahl said. "I think that's kind of in the ballpark."

Kahl would not talk about specific Ukrainian casualties but noted that "Ukrainian morale and will to fight is unquestioned and much higher, I think, than the average morale and will to fight on the Russian side." He added, "I think that gives the Ukrainians a significant advantage."

Russia has gone through "a significant percentage of their precision guided munitions and their standoff munitions," Khal said. Because they’re "running low," they’re not using them as much and keeping what they have in reserve for other contingencies, he said. And because of sanctions against Russia, it will be tougher for the military to rebuild their stocks, he said.

-ABC News’ Luis Martinez

Aug 08, 1:30 PM EDT
Pentagon announces new $1 billion military aid package

The Pentagon has announced a new $1 billion military aid package for Ukraine.

The package includes more missiles for the HIMARS advanced rocket systems; 1,000 more Javelin anti-tank weapons; 55,000 rounds of artillery for 155mm howitzers; and armored vehicles.

"This package provides a significant amount of additional ammunition, weapons, and equipment that Ukrainians are using so effectively to defend themselves and will bring total U.S. security assistance to Ukraine to approximately $9.8 billion since the beginning of this Administration," Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement.

The Treasury Department also announced Monday another $4.5 billion in direct economic assistance to help support Ukraine's government, including paying salaries and keeping hospitals and schools open.

Aug 08, 9:49 AM EDT
More ships leave Ukraine, raising hopes for peace

Two dry cargo ships loaded with export grain were scheduled to leave the Ukrainian ports of Chornomorsk and Pivdenne on Monday after a busy weekend that saw four additional cargo vessels sail through Ukrainian waters.

The vessel Sakura, carrying 11,000 tonnes of soy, was the first to leave the Ukrainian port of Pivdenne on Monday as part of an initiative to export grain from Ukraine, local media reported.

The ship set course for Italy in the company of another dry cargo carrier -- Arizona -- which left Chornomorsk, another Ukrainian Black Sea port, with 50,000 tonnes of corn on Monday. The Arizona vessel is bound for Turkey.

Another four-ship convoy left Ukraine on Sunday morning, carrying 170,000 tons of agricultural produce, Ukraine's Infrastructure Ministry said over the weekend.

Pope Francis welcomed the safe departure of the ships on Sunday while speaking at the noon-day Angelus prayer. “This event can be seen as a sign of hope,” the Pope said, adding that the export deal charts the path forward toward peace. “I sincerely hope that, following this path, we can put an end to the fighting and arrive at a just and lasting peace.”

So far, around 250,000 tonnes of corn, as well as 11,000 tonnes of soybeans, 6,000 tonnes of sunflower oil and 45,000 tonnes of sunflower meal have been exported from Ukraine on 10 ships since the first departure on Aug. 1, when the deal to establish safe corridors for ships to pass through was struck, according to a Reuters data tally.

Ukraine is planning to send up to five cargo ships a day from three Black Sea Ports in the following weeks, the local Sea Ports Authority said on Monday. Local authorities are also working to ensure that Ukrainian ports can receive at least three to five ships per day within two weeks, Infrastructure Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov said on Saturday.

The resumption of grain exports is being overseen by a Joint Coordination Centre in Istanbul, comprised of Russian, Ukrainian, Turkish and U.N. personnel.

Meanwhile, the very first ship with Ukrainian grain that left the port of Odesa on Aug. 1 has been delayed in Tripoli, Lebanon, according to Ihor Ostash, the Ukrainian Ambassador to Lebanon.

“We are waiting for the conclusion of the negotiation process. Following this vessel, 20 others are already ready to leave Odesa," the ambassador said on Sunday.

-ABC News' Edward Szekeres, Yuriy Zaliznyak, Fidel Pavlenko and Max Uzol

Aug 07, 1:35 PM EDT
Jessica Chastain meets with Zelenskyy

Actress Jessica Chastain was photographed with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Sunday in Kyiv following a meeting in which the Oscar winner expressed support for the country under siege by Russia.

"For us, such visits of famous people are extremely valuable," Zelenskyy wrote on his verified Telegram account. "Thanks to this, the world will hear, know and understand the truth about what is happening in our country even more."

In the post, Zelenskyy thanked Chastain for her support and published several photos of Chastain sitting at a table with Zelenskyy and two of his advisers.

Chastain has been vocal on social media regarding the plight Ukrainians are experiencing. In March, she tweeted photos published by Vogue Ukraine that highlighted the women being forced to give birth in bomb shelters are the start of the invasion.

-ABC News Christine Theodorou

Aug 05, 4:05 PM EDT
Russia shelled nuclear plant, Zelenskyy says

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Russian forces shelled the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant Friday.

Zelenskyy said forces twice struck the plant, which is in Russian-controlled territory in the southeast, and called the action "an act of terror," in a statement released on Telegram.

"Russia should be responsible for the very fact of creating a threat to the nuclear power plant," he said in the statement.

The facility is the largest nuclear power plant in Europe.

The Russian military, however, claimed it was a Ukrainian artillery strike that led to the reduction of activities of one power unit, and power falling at another.

They claimed 20 shells were fired at the city of Enerhodar and the power plant.

"Fortunately, the Ukrainian shells did not hit the oil and fuel facility and the oxygen plant nearby, thus avoiding a larger fire and a possible radiation accident," Russia’s defense ministry said, according to Reuters.

Earlier this week, the International Atomic Energy Agency officials said the situation at Zaporizhzhia was “out of control” as routine safety checks had not been observed. IAEA officials have appealed for access to the Russian-controlled plant.

Aug 05, 6:33 AM EDT
3 more ships carrying Ukrainian grain leave Odesa-area ports

Another three commercial ships carrying Ukrainian grain have departed from Odesa-area ports under a wartime deal, the Turkish Ministry of National Defense said Friday.

The vessels are bound for Turkey, the United Kingdom and Ireland, with a combined total of 58,000 tons of Ukrainian corn onboard. All three ships will undergo inspection in Istanbul, as is required under the grain exports deal, according to the ministry.

The United Nations confirmed Thursday that three more grain ships -- two from the port of Chornomorsk and one from Odesa -- were cleared to depart through the designated "maritime humanitarian corridor."

On Monday, the first commercial vessel carrying Ukrainian grain set sail from Odesa's port under the so-called Black Sea Grain Initiative, bound for the Lebanese port of Tripoli. Last month, Russia and Ukraine signed separate agreements with Turkey and the U.N. to allow Ukraine to resume its shipment of grain from the Black Sea to world markets and for Russia to export grain and fertilizers.

Aug 04, 10:24 AM EDT
Ukrainian fighting tactics endanger civilians, Amnesty International says

Ukrainian forces attempting to repel the Russian invasion have put civilians in harm's way by establishing bases and operating weapons systems in populated residential areas, including in schools and hospitals, Amnesty International said Thursday.

The London-based international human rights group published a new report detailing such tactics, saying they turn civilian objects into military targets.

"We have documented a pattern of Ukrainian forces putting civilians at risk and violating the laws of war when they operate in populated areas," Amnesty International Secretary-General Agnès Callamard said in a statement. "Being in a defensive position does not exempt the Ukrainian military from respecting international humanitarian law."

Between April and July, Amnesty International researchers spent several weeks investigating Russian airstrikes in the Kharkiv, Donbas and Mykolaiv regions of Ukraine. The organization inspected strike sites, interviewed survivors, witnesses and relatives of victims of attacks, as well as carried out remote-sensing and weapons analysis. Throughout the probe, researchers found evidence of Ukrainian forces launching strikes from within populated residential areas as well as basing themselves in civilian buildings in 19 towns and villages in the regions, according to Amnesty International.

The organization said most residential areas where Ukrainian soldiers located themselves were miles away from front lines, with viable alternatives that would not endanger civilians, such as nearby military bases or densely wooded areas, and other structures further away. In the cases documented, Amnesty International said it is not aware of the Ukrainian troops asking or assisting civilians to evacuate nearby buildings in the residential areas, which the organization called "a failure to take all feasible precautions to protect civilians."

Amnesty International, however, noted that not every Russian attack it documented followed this pattern. In certain other locations in which the organization concluded that Russia had committed war crimes, including in some areas of the city of Kharkiv, the organization did not find evidence of Ukrainian forces located in the civilian areas unlawfully targeted by the Russian military.

Aug 03, 11:21 AM EDT
Inspectors in Turkey clear 1st grain ship from Ukraine, but no sign of more

The first commercial vessel carrying Ukrainian grain under a wartime deal has safely departed the Black Sea, the United Nations said Wednesday.

The Sierra Leone-flagged Razoni set sail from the Ukrainian port city of Odesa on Monday, with more than 26,000 tons of Ukrainian corn on board. The vessel docked off the coast of Istanbul late Tuesday, where it was required to be inspected before being allowed to proceed to its final destination, Lebanon.

A joint civilian inspection comprising officials from Russia, Turkey, Ukraine and the U.N. inspected the Razoni on Wednesday morning, checking on the cargo and crew. After three hours, the team cleared the ship to set sail for Lebanon, according to the U.N. said.

"This marks the conclusion of an initial 'proof of concept' operation to execute the agreement," the U.N. said in a statement Wednesday.

It's the first commercial vessel carrying Ukrainian grain to safely depart the Black Sea since the start of Russia's ongoing offensive, and the first to do so under the so-called Black Sea Grain Initiative. Last month, Russia and Ukraine signed separate agreements with Turkey and the U.N. to allow Ukraine to resume its shipment of grain from the Black Sea to world markets and for Russia to export grain and fertilizers.

In a statement Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken called Razoni's journey a "significant step" but noted that "this is only a first step."

No other grain shipments have departed Ukraine in the last two days and officials on all sides have offered no explanation for that delay.

The U.N. said Wednesday that three Ukrainian ports "are due to resume the export of millions of tons of wheat, corn and other crops," but didn't provide further details.

Since Russian forces invaded neighboring Ukraine on Feb. 24, the cost of grain, fertilizer and fuel has skyrocketed worldwide. Russia and Ukraine -- often referred to collectively as Europe's breadbasket -- produce a third of the global supply of wheat and barley, but a Russian blockade in the Black Sea combined with Ukrainian naval mines have made exporting siloed grain and other foodstuffs virtually impossible. As a result, millions of people around the world -- particularly in Africa and the Middle East -- are now on the brink of famine.

Aug 03, 9:58 AM EDT
Thousands flee 'hell' in Ukraine's east

Two-thirds of residents have fled eastern Ukraine's Donetsk Oblast since the start of Russia's invasion in late February, according to the regional governor.

Speaking to Ukrainian media on Tuesday, Donetsk Oblast Gov. Pavlo Kyrylenko said some 350,000 residents remain in the war-torn region.

During his Tuesday evening address, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called the hostilities in Ukraine's east "hell."

"It cannot be described with words," Zelenskyy said.

Ukrainian forces cannot yet "completely break the Russian army's advantage in artillery and manpower, and this is very noticeable in the fighting," he added.

Last month, Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said 200,000 civilians must be evacuated from the Donetsk Oblast before the weather gets colder, as there is no proper electricity or gas supply in the area for residents to heat their homes. Russian forces are also destroying heating equipment, according to Vereshchuk.

Zelenskyy has ordered the mandatory evacuation of Donetsk Oblast residents, urging them to leave as soon as possible. Those who comply will be compensated.

"The more people leave [the] Donetsk region now, the fewer people the Russian army will have time to kill," he said.

Although many refuse to go, Zelenskyy stressed that "it still needs to be done."

Mandatory evacuation from Donetsk Oblast began on Aug. 1. The first two trains evacuated 224 people to the central Ukrainian city of Kropyvnytskyi, according to local officials.

-ABC News' Edward Szekeres, Yulia Drozd, Fidel Pavlenko and Yuriy Zaliznyak

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


New Music Roundup: Jordan Davis, Parmalee & more

MCA Nashville

Jordan Davis dropped his new song, "Next Thing You Know," that follows a couple's relationship from the day they met at a bar to getting married and having their first child. It will be featured on Jordan's upcoming album, along with his current single, "What My World Spins Around," and previous hit "Buy Dirt." 

Parmalee has readied their new single for country radio, "Girl in Mine." It follows back-to-back #1 hits "Just the Way" and "Take My Name." 

Frank Ray's debut EP, Getcha Some, is out now. It's named after a phrase Frank frequently used for motivation while in the police academy. The six-song EP includes his current hit single, "Country'd Look Good on You." 

Little Big Town has shared "Better Love," another track off their upcoming album, Mr. Sun. 

Morgan Wade has released her new EP, Acoustic Sessions, featuring stripped down versions of "Last Cigarette," "Wilder Days" and others. 

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Expert weighs in on alleged Iranian plot to kill high-profile US official

FBI

(NEW YORK) -- The Justice Department unsealed charges Wednesday against an Iranian national and member of Iran's Revolutionary Guard who prosecutors say tried to arrange the murder of John Bolton, Donald Trump's former national security adviser.

The criminal complaint was filed against 45-year-old Shahram Poursafi. Prosecutors allege that Poursafi tried to arrange the murder of Bolton in “likely” retaliation for the murder of top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani, who was killed on Jan. 3, 2020, during the Trump administration.

Poursafi remains at large abroad.

In a statement after the charges were unsealed, Bolton called Iranian rulers “liars, terrorists and enemies of the United States.”

"Their radical, anti-American objectives are unchanged; their commitments are worthless; and their global threat is growing," Bolton said, in part.

Nasser Kanani, the spokesman of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Iran, called the charges “baseless” and said the United States continues to claim “endless” and false accusations against Iran.

“In a new story-telling, the American judicial authorities have raised accusations without providing valid documents and necessary documents,” said Kanani, in a statement translated from Persian.

ABC News’ “Start Here” spoke to Marine Col. Stephen Ganyard, a former State Department official and now ABC News contributor, on the alleged plot to kill one of the United States' most high-profile officials.

START HERE: John Bolton was a United Nations ambassador for George W. Bush [and] he was the national security adviser under Donald Trump…but he’s not in office now. Why would someone want to kill John Bolton?

GANYARD: Revenge Brad. It was payback. Remember that John Bolton was probably the hawk [and] probably pushed President Trump to take out Soleimani when the U.S. had the chance.

When they assassinated Soleimani back in 2020, understanding who Soleimani was within the Iranian society, understanding he was nearly a demigod.

There was nobody more powerful in Iran other than the supreme leader. So here is a hugely powerful man that was seen as a hero in the eyes of the Iranian people who needed a hero.

Who had brought together a serious military strategy in the Middle East, that pulled together Iran and Syria and Hezbollah and all of the efforts the Iranians had in the Middle East.

He unified the Iranian people. He unified the Iranian military in a way that no other commander had done and no other non-secular commander had ever done.

START HERE: What was the plan [to kill Bolton]? Do we know about who [the suspect] is and what he was doing?

GANYARD: We have a name, [but] we don't know much more than that.

Clearly some kind of plot like this would have to be approved at the highest levels in Tehran, but we don't know what this person's position is. We don't know whether they were part of the intelligence services, whether they're part of the Quds Force.

We just know that the Department of Justice developed enough evidence, whether that was voice transcripts, whether it was text, whether it was emails, but they developed enough to get an indictment of this guy who isn't even in the United States.

So very, very fuzzy, but he is likely within the hierarchy of the Iranian intelligence services and the Iranian government.

START HERE: Suppose these allegations are true. What would've happened if this was successful? What was Iran planning on happening in the fallout of a major attack?

GANYARD: It would've put the Biden administration in a very tough place.

Remember, the time that this would’ve gone down, the Biden administration was negotiating, trying to revive the nuclear deal that the Obama administration had put in place, that the Trump administration had discarded.

So if something like this would happen, that whole effort by the Biden administration, which he had talked about as candidate Biden, would've gone by the wayside. There was no way that he could agree to something with the Iranians.

Even worse, there may have been a requirement for retaliation, for the United States to do something militarily, to pay back the Iranians for assassinating a senior United States government official.

START HERE: So we could have found ourselves at war, is what you're saying, if this was successful?

GANYARD: We could have, depending on how egregious it was and how the Biden administration reacted, there could have been some sort of a military retaliation.

And in that part of the world, it's really hard to know whether you are lighting a fire or you're putting one out.

START HERE: Well, from the U.S. perspective, the DOJ did not have to release this information [but] they chose to… What is about to happen for the U.S. and Iran going forward?

GANYARD: So this seems like it's a warning. Here's why: We know that the Iranians offered this U.S. person $300,000 to kill Bolton. But they said, “Once you do that, we got a million dollars for somebody else that we're already surveilling.”

GANYARD: So this is something where the Department of Justice and the FBI said, “We know that we are not gonna get this guy that we're gonna indict, but we have to fire a warning shot across their bow. We have to make it clear. We know what's going on here and you better not do it again, or even try to do it again because there will be consequences.”

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Campus femicides in Egypt revive calls to strengthen laws against gender-based violence

Manuel Augusto Moreno/Getty Images

(CAIRO, Egypt) -- The latest murder of a young woman in Egypt who had allegedly rejected the advances of a fellow student has sparked outrage and renewed calls for Egyptian lawmakers to take action.

Islam Mohamed, a 22-year-old student at Al-Shorouk Academy in the Greater Cairo area, was detained early Wednesday on suspicion of killing his 20-year-old classmate, Salma Bahgat. He is accused of "repeatedly stabbing her with a knife" on Tuesday as she was leaving a building in Zagazig, northeast of Cairo, according to a statement from Egyptian prosecutors.

Prosecutors, citing accounts from witnesses and relatives, said Bahgat had had twice declined marriage proposals from Mohamed, who in turn made death threats against her. Bahgat's parents told authorities that Mohamed's proposals were rejected because of his "misbehavior and drug abuse," according to prosecutors.

In a statement released Tuesday evening, Al-Shorouk Academy mourned the death of Bahgat, who was studying media, saying: "She was an example of a diligent and distinguished student, on the moral and scientific levels, throughout her four years at the academy."

Bahgat's killing marked the second such campus femicide to occur in Egypt within the past two months, prompting outcry on social media.

"Another woman killed for saying 'No,'" one Twitter user wrote.

"I cant believe in this amount of time another incident like Nayera happened again," another user said.

In June, 21-year-old Nayera Ashraf was stabbed to death in front of her university in Mansoura, north of Cairo, by a fellow student whose marriage proposal she had turned down. The gruesome incident, which was videotaped by bystanders, sent shockwaves across the North African nation.

Ashraf's killer, 21-year-old Mohamed Adel, gained sympathy during his trial from some commentators on social media who called the murder a "crime of passion," because they said he was left heartbroken.

"Misogyny is deep-rooted in Egyptian culture. A kid is raised watching his father beat his mother, for instance," Said Sadek, a professor of political sociology at the American University in Cairo, told ABC News on Thursday.

"The media that frown upon any actress who wears revealing dresses and religious scholars who demand that women cover up from head to toe are also to blame for fueling such sentiments," he added. "We turn the victim into a criminal and the harassers into heroes."

Adel was ultimately convicted and sentenced to death last month. The court also took the unusual step of calling for changes to Egyptian law to allow executions to be broadcast live as a deterrent to others. Capital punishment in Egypt is rarely broadcast or carried out in public.

In Egypt, murder is punishable by death. More people were sentenced to death there last year than in any other country. In terms of the number of executions carried out, Egypt had the third highest, according to human rights group Amnesty International.

Nevertheless, critics argue that Egyptian law must be strengthened against gender-based violence, threats or blackmailing, which have been on the rise in recent years.

Sadek cited one example of a man who spent just a few weeks in prison after sexually harassing and beating up a woman in a Cairo shopping mall in 2015. Two years later, he attacked her with a knife, leaving a deep cut in her face, Sadek said.

According to a 2015 survey conducted by the United Nations Population Fund and the Egyptian government, about 7.8 million women in Egypt suffer from all forms of violence every year, "whether perpetrated by a spouse/fiancé or individuals in her close circles or from strangers in public places."

Sexual violence is also rampant, with over 99.3% of Egyptian girls and women experiencing some form of sexual harassment in their lifetime, according to a U.N. report released in 2013.

Last year, the Parliament of Egypt approved tougher penalties for sexual harassment, making the crime punishable by a minimum of five years in prison. But women rights groups insist more should be done, calling on Egyptian Parliament to fast-track a draft unified law for combating violence against women. The proposed legislation has been in the works for several months.

In the wake of Bahgat's killing, almost two dozen groups, including the Giza-based Center for Egyptian Women's Legal Assistance, issued a statement Wednesday calling on Egyptian authorities "to take all the measures to protect women and girls, who have the right to live safely in their homeland."

"Violence has become a culture nurtured by a societal complicity that justifies it, condemns the victim and sympathizes with the perpetrator," they said. "We encourage women and girls to urgently report any threats they receive to authorities."

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


At least 31 people injured on ride at Legoland park in Germany, police say

Stefan Puchner/picture alliance via Getty Images

(GUENZBURG, Germany) -- Dozens of people were injured on a ride at an amusement park in Germany on Thursday, police said.

The incident occurred at a Legoland park in Günzburg in Bavaria around 2 p.m. local time, when two trains on a roller coaster collided, local police said in a statement.

The accident occurred when one train on the roller coaster stopped, and a train behind it did not brake fully, crashing into it, police said. The ride was not identified by police.

At least 31 people were injured in the accident, including one severely, a local police spokesperson confirmed to ABC News. Among them, 16 people were transported to the hospital, while 15 were assessed on-site and cleared to go home, police said. Those injured included 10 children, one teenager and 20 adults, police said.

Three rescue helicopters responded to the scene as a precaution but were not used, police said.

All passengers have been removed from the ride, which will remain closed, police said.

The public prosecutor's office in Memmingen is investigating the cause of the accident, police said.

Investigators will be on the scene Friday, police said.

ABC News did not immediately receive a response from the amusement park when seeking comment.

Last week, a person died in a roller coaster accident at another German amusement park, Klotti Park, after falling off the ride, officials said. Authorities are investigating the cause of the accident.

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Wildfires ravage France's famous wine region

PHILIPPE LOPEZ/AFP via Getty Images)

(BORDEAUX, France) — A wildfire is raging at an "unprecedented" rate in the famed wine region south of Bordeaux, France, firefighters said Wednesday.

The prefecture of Gironde in southwest France ordered an estimated 10,000 residents to evacuate.

"Prepare your papers, the animals you can take with you, some belongings," the Gironde municipality of Belin-Beliet posted on their Facebook before evacuations.

No casualties have been reported as of Wednesday afternoon. Sixteen homes have been destroyed, according to the prefecture of Gironde.

The wildfire began around 1 p.m. on Tuesday in Saint-Magne and Hostens before growing rapidly due to "unfavorable weather conditions," the prefecture said.

Nearly 14,826 acres were engulfed by the flames around Hostens and Belin-Béliet on Tuesday night.

Over 1,000 firefighters, nine planes and two helicopters have been mobilized to address the fire, French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said in a statement Wednesday.

The community of Landiras, the epicenter of the current wildfire, lost over 34,000 acres of forest in July.

According to officials, firefighters are facing at least three other fires in the south of France on Wednesday.

French Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne tweeted that she will be visiting the region on Thursday.

"The mobilization of the Government and State services, alongside local elected officials, volunteers and residents, is absolute," Borne tweeted.

In southern France, temperatures are forecast to reach up to 104 degrees Fahrenheit through the end of the week, according to Meteo France, the country's metorological service.

Currently, 63% of the European Union and U.K. are under either drought warnings or alerts on Wednesday, according to the EU's European Drought Observatory.

Over 140,000 acres of French land has burned so far this year, nearly six times more than the average for the country from 2006 to 2021, according to the European Forest Fire System.

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Heavy rain batters South Korea, flooding Seoul neighborhoods and killing at least 10

Photography by Keith Getter (all rights reserved)/Getty Images

(SEOUL, South Korea) -- Heavy rain with thunder and lightning has battered South Korea's central areas for two straight days, causing damage, injuries and deaths.

Ten people have died and seven more have been reported missing in the heavy rain in the last two days, according to South Korea's Central Disaster and Safety Countermeasures Headquarters. A family of three living in a semi-basement apartment died when their home flooded, in Gwanak-gu, Seoul, officials said.

The heaviest-ever rainfall since South Korea began tracking precipitation data has flooded subway stations and submerged roads and homes.

Korea Meteorological Administration said the rainfall was a result of a strong collision between dry cold air coming from the North and hot humid air from the South.

Thousands of vehicles were submerged in Seoul on Monday night, forcing drivers to abandon their cars on the flooded road to get home. Muddy water brimmed over the river onto the streets and into the vehicles. Public sewers overflowed, not being able to hold the amount of rain that poured fast and hard.

"It rained 140 millimeters (5.5 inches) Monday night in the Dongjak district, Seoul, in just one hour. Seoul city's annual precipitation is 1,400 millimeters (55 inches), which means that in just one hour, one-tenth of Seoul city's yearly rainfall poured in just one part of the city in a very short period," Lee Young-joo, professor of fire prevention science at the University of Seoul, told ABC News.

Hundreds of people living in mountainous areas in Seoul were evacuated to prevent damage from landslides Monday night. Civil service workers relocated residents living in lower-level homes and near mountains to temporary shelters. The heavy rain that poured after 6 p.m. Monday was especially harsh on people commuting from work to their homes.

"When I got off work, water was up to my knees and children were struggling to wade through the flooded water," Seoul citizen Dong-Ug Yoon told ABC News about his difficult commute home. "The subway station was full of dirt. The shopkeeper of the underground convenience store was visibly emotional, trying to hold off the water gushing from the station stairs into her store."

Gangnam district, well known for its posh streets and office buildings, was hit aggressively by the rain due to its topographical traits. The Gangnam subway station area is known to be 30 feet lower than the neighboring subway stations, making it more vulnerable to heavy rain and flood.

"Cars and buses were submerged in the flood so I had to park my car on a relatively safe side of the road and walk home. It took almost two hours trying to find roads that weren't underwater yet," Yewon Lee, an organist living in Seoul, told ABC News. "When I returned early this morning, I found other vehicles that floated down and collapsed into my car."

The Seoul Metropolitan Government repaired the drainage facility in Gangnam after the area flooded from heavy rain in 2010.

Lee, the professor, said at the amount of rain that poured since Monday was way over the scale a reasonable drainage system could handle.

President Yoon Suk-yeol ordered officials during an emergency meeting Tuesday to "respond all-out with a sense of alertness." He ordered officials to put in place preemptive entry restrictions in areas prone to landslides and flooding and for swiftly communicating the measures to the public.

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Stolen artifacts sold to US collectors will be repatriated to Cambodia, officials say

Aaron Katersky

(NEW YORK) -- Cambodian artifacts will return to their home country after being smuggled and sold to U.S. collectors and institutions.

The 10th Century Khmer sandstone statue "Skanda on a Peacock" was among the Cambodian antiquities looted from Angkor Wat, Koh Ker and other archeological sites during Cambodia’s periods of civil war and civil unrest that stretched from the 1960s to the 1990s.

"Skanda on a Peacock" is largely viewed as a masterpiece of artistic achievement and an important part of the Cambodian cultural heritage, according to experts.

On Monday, authorities announced "Skanda on a Peacock" and 30 other items will be repatriated to Cambodia after they were seized by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan and the New York field office of the Department of Homeland Security.

The ancient works of art, more than 1000 years old, were “ripped from their country,” said Ricky Patel, United States attorney for the Eastern District of New York, adding that the works were treated like ordinary commodities rather than the treasures they are.

All the pieces were sold to U.S. collectors and institutions by Douglas Latchford, who was indicted in 2019 for his lengthy involvement in illegal trafficking of looted Cambodian antiquities.

Latchford, a dual citizen of Thailand and the United Kingdom, was charged with wire fraud, smuggling, conspiracy and related charges. The indictment was dismissed after he died on Aug. 2, 2020, in Thailand.

U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said Latchford trafficked in works that are culturally valuable to the Cambodian people and he said the U.S. was “delighted” to return them.

"It’s like a return of the souls of our culture," Keo Chhea, Cambodian ambassador to the U.S, said in a statement.

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US moves to seize Russian oligarch's $90 million private jet

Photo courtesy of the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York

(NEW YORK) -- Federal prosecutors have moved to seize the $90 million Airbus A319 used as a private jet by a Russian businessman and parliamentarian known as the "richest man in the Duma."

Andrei Skoch has been a member of Russia's national parliament since 1999 and under U.S. sanctions since 2018 because of his "longstanding ties to Russian organized criminal groups, including time spent leading one such enterprise," according to the Treasury Department.

After Russia invaded Ukraine, the U.S. issued further sanctions against Skoch and his assets for "support[ing] the Kremlin's efforts to violate Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity."

"Once again US law enforcement has demonstrated that international shell games will not suffice to hide the fruits of corruption and money laundering," said Andrew Adams, director of the Justice Department's KleptoCapture task force that has been moving to seize assets of sanctioned Russian oligarchs.

Skoch came to own the Airbus through a series of shell companies and trusts tied to his romantic partner, according to a seizure warrant issued by federal prosecutors in Manhattan.

U.S. dollar transactions were made to pay for the registration of the Airbus in Aruba and for aviation insurance premiums, each of which was a necessary expense to maintain and operate the Airbus, the document said.

Skoch is part owner of the steel company Lebedinsky Mining, which is now part of the conglomerate Metalloinvest.

The Justice Department's KleptoCapture task force is targeting sanctioned Russian oligarchs and their assets over their support for Russia's unprovoked war against Ukraine.

"The sanctions levied by the U.S. government and the work of this task force demonstrate to these offensively wealthy oligarchs who support Russia's military aggression that they are not untouchable, and we are dramatically impacting their way of life," said FBI Assistant Director in Charge Michael Driscoll.

Skoch, 56, is currently worth $6.2 billion, according to Forbes' World's Billionaires List.

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Secretary Blinken to arrive in Congo, Rwanda amid international tensions

Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz

(NAIROBI, Kenya) -- U.S. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken is scheduled to meet with officials in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda this week, arriving in the middle of an ongoing conflict between militias and officials in the region.

His trip coincides with a recent surge of deadly violence along the borders between Congo, Rwanda and Uganda. Local officials will expect Blinken to play the part of mediator between the three countries.

The Department of State said Blinken will send the message that “African countries are geostrategic players and critical partners on the most pressing issues of our day, from promoting an open and stable international system, to tackling the effects of climate change, food insecurity and global pandemics to shaping our technological and economic futures.”

The long-simmering disputes between the three countries and various militias have complex histories, but some of the most recent violence has stemmed from the fallout of a series of official contracts issued in 2020 for access or rights to lucrative mines in Congo. Since then, militia groups have taken up arms in hopes of expelling rivals and controlling disputed areas.

Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi signed a deal in 2020 with Uganda’s Dott Services Company. The agreement was to construct a road that would give Uganda access to Congo’s tin-rich mining province of Maniema.

But the following year, Felix also signed a mining agreement with Rwandan President Paul Kagame and Dither Ltd., a company alleged to be under the management of Rwanda's army. That deal is alleged by Uganda to have given Rwanda control over the entire mining supply chain.

After the Rwanda agreement, the Ugandan army immediately moved in to protect Dott Services assets and staff from crashes instigated by the March 23 Movement, a rebel militia. Uganda accused the Rwandan government of funding M23, which Rwanda vehemently denies.

In June 2022, the Congolese government suspended all agreements with Rwanda.

M23 has been behind the string of violence against civilians in Bunagana, an open cross-border trade area located between Uganda, Rwanda and Congo that has served as a hub for the militia since March. Members of the group have been accused by officials and international observers of raping women, killing residents, destroying property and stealing civilian livestock.

Thomas Fessy, a senior Congo researcher at Human Rights Watch, said that “since the M23 took control of several towns and villages in North Kivu in June, they’ve committed the same kind of horrific abuses against civilians that we’ve documented in the past. The government’s failure to hold M23 commanders accountable for war crimes committed years ago is enabling them and their new recruits to commit abuses today.”

According to United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, thousands of people have fled to neighboring Uganda.

The M23 movement formed in 2012 when former members of National Congress for the Defense of the People, another militia, turned against the Congolese government by taking control of Goma, a city of over a million people and the capital of the eastern North Kivu province.

The United Nations Stabilization Mission in Congo had been working to quell the conflict until July, when U.N. peacekeepers allegedly shot and killed two civilians and injured others. The killings sparked a civilian protest where 36 people died, including four U.N. peacekeepers, officials said.

The Congolese government expelled U.N. spokesperson Mathias Gillman on Aug. 3, blaming him for the deadly protest. Congolese Foreign Minister Christophe Lutundula also said state officials were reassessing the U.N. mission’s scope after the deadly protests.

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres said in a statement that he was "outraged" by the incident, adding that he welcomed Congo's decision to detain U.N. "personnel involved in the incident and to immediately open an investigation."

As Blinken lands in Congo on Tuesday, local officials are expecting him to discuss the advancement of peace in the Congo and the broader Great Lakes region and ensuring free, inclusive and fair general elections of 2023.

Blinken is also expected to use his visit to Rwanda on Thursday to discuss Paul Rusesabagina's trial and conviction.

The 67-year-old permanent U.S. resident has been detained in Kigali since August 2020. He was convicted in September of multiple terrorism-related charges and sentenced to 25 years in prison.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of State determined that Rusesabagina has been “wrongfully detained.” State Department spokesperson Ned Price has said that U.S. officials were "concerned” about whether Rusesabagina was given a fair trial.

Rwanda released a statement saying, “We look forward to further strengthen the bilateral relationship between Rwanda and United States, and discussing our partnership in areas including peacekeeping, global health (notably the upcoming Global Fund replenishment) global food and energy security, trade and investment, counterterrorism and climate action.”

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London museum agrees to return stolen Nigerian artifacts, including Benin bronzes

omersukrugoksu/Getty Images

(LONDON) -- A British museum will return 72 artifacts to the Nigerian government that were forcibly taken over a hundred years ago.

The Horniman Museum and Gardens agreed to hand over the artifacts, including several sculptures known as Benin bronzes, after receiving a request for the artifacts from the Nigerian government.

The pieces were looted from Benin City in southern Nigeria during a British military invasion in 1897, according to a statement from the museum's board of trustees.

"The evidence is very clear that these objects were acquired through force, and external consultation supported our view that it is both moral and appropriate to return their ownership to Nigeria," the board's chair Eve Salomon said in a statement.

The request to reclaim the stolen artifacts came in January, issued by the National Commission for Museums and Monuments, a Nigerian agency that oversees the preservation of the country's historic and cultural properties.

Abba Tijani, NCMM's director, said in a statement that the agency "very much welcomes" the Horniman's decision and looks forward to future collaborations and loan agreements between the two organizations.

The Horniman undertook detailed research following the NCMM's request in order to compile all of the artifacts that pertained to the request, according to a statement from the museum.

The museum added that its staff consulted with community members, visitors, schoolchildren, academics, heritage professionals and artists based in Nigeria and the U.K. in order to reach a decision.

The collection that has been marked for the request includes 12 Benin bronzes, which are mostly made of brass, according to the British Museum.

There are also several everyday items, such as fans and baskets, alongside a brass cockerel altarpiece, ivory and brass ceremonial objects, brass bells and a key "to the king's palace," according to the museum's statement.

The regulator of the charitable sector in the U.K., the Charity Commission, endorsed the decision of the Horniman trustees on Aug. 5.

Now, Horniman and the NCMM will begin the process of the formal transfer of ownership, and discuss the retaining of some objects on loan for display, research and education, according to the museum.

Many of Nigeria's famed Benin bronzes remain scattered across the world due to the British looting in the 1800s.

However, museums are slowly working to repatriate the artifacts as Horniman is doing now.

Last fall, the French government and a British university both made agreements to send back Benin bronzes to Nigeria.

Last month, Germany returned two Benin bronze sculptures and signed a political agreement with Nigeria that could lead to hundreds more returning to the country in the future.

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People in Beirut reflect on what they've lost two years after port blasts: Reporter's notebook

Ibtissem Guenfoud/ABC News

(BEIRUT, Lebanon) -- An explosion of 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate in Lebanon's biggest seaport in 2020 has left deep trauma in the Lebanese psyche.

Opera singer Michel Bou Rjeilly says Beirut will never be the same.

"It was all gone," he said. "The café shops, the boutiques, the little scribbles on the walls, the old men fighting over who cheated while playing cards … Smashed, dead and unrecognizable."

Bou Rjeilly who was injured in the explosion, said he remembers the immediate aftermath with clarity. "All my things were scattered on the floor, my brother was in front of me trying to remove the glass from my hair and head, telling me not to worry and that we will fix the house together … outside people screaming, ambulances going off, the phone wouldn't stop ringing," he recalled.

Nearly 200 people were reported dead after the blasts on Aug. 4, 2020, and over 7,000 were injured. The blasts destroyed 77,000 apartments and displaced over 300,000 people, the United Nations said.

Four of the port's silos collapsed on Thursday as a belated result of the blasts, two years to the day after the explosions. Beirut residents who had gathered near the port center for protests and in homage to victims watched their port once again engulfed in smoke on this national day of mourning.

On Wednesday, U.N. experts called on the Human Rights Council to launch an international investigation into the explosion, saying, "Victims must have justice and accountability."

Yet two years after the blasts, no one has been arrested or faced consequences. "This tragedy marked one of the largest non-nuclear blasts in recent memory, yet the world has done nothing to find out why it happened," U.N. experts said this week.

On the anniversary of the tragedy, some Beirut residents talk about it constantly, sharing where they were when it happened, and like Bou Rjeilly, sharing their survival stories.

Some of them say if the economic crisis had hit the Lebanese commercial area of Mar Mikhael; if COVID-19 restrictions had not drastically diminished the numbers on the streets that day. if children were still at school at the time of the explosion, perhaps the death toll would have been in the thousands rather than the hundreds.

The human toll is significant. My contact in Lebanon told me as I boarded the plane to head there to cover the explosion in September 2020 that I could call him anytime because he doesn't "sleep since the blasts."

Apparently, he is not alone in experiencing restless nights and anxiety since the blast. Local reports have also covered a shortage of antidepressants in Lebanon's pharmacies -- some believe due to the country's financial crisis and the trauma from the explosions.

The explosions also led to an exacerbation of the food crisis in a country already hard-hit by a dire financial crisis. Lebanon imports up to 80% of its food and the blasts affected the country's main entry point for food products, according to a local food bank.

Mona Keenan is vice president of the Lebanese Food Bank, a nongovernmental organization that distributed over 100,000 food boxes to people in need in the last year. More than 1.5 million people are currently suffering from food insecurity in Lebanon, she said.

"The food crisis since the explosions has doubled, tripled even, (so) the need is much more than before," Keenan said. "The port was the main place where food came from."

The blasts have become a symbol of the struggle of the Lebanese people. The shockwaves are still being felt, with nearly 80,000 people having fled the country in the last year alone, according to Sal, an independent consultancy firm based in Beirut.

During my September in Beirut, I spoke to those who were making plans to leave the country while claiming their love for Lebanon and pride in being from its capital.

A large number of Lebanese are fleeing country, according to the U.N.'s International Organization for Migration, so expatriation is far from a new phenomenon. What's different this time, is that some told me they were not looking back once gone, and were planning on not returning.

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Expert explains Russian law behind Brittney Griner sentencing

ABC

(NEW YORK) -- Brittney Griner is known for her game on the basketball court, but she's now become embroiled in a much more dangerous game -- a political gambit between Russia and the U.S.

William Pomeranz, the director of the Wilson Center Kennan Institute, is an expert on Russian law and the political developments within the country. He spoke to ABC News Live about the message behind Russia's sentencing of Griner and what may come next.

He said that Griner's conviction and nine-year sentence for drug charges Thursday "did not come as a surprise."

"Russian criminal law treats drug offenses very harshly and I was not surprised that she got basically the maximum sentence," Pomeranz said.

Griner has been detained in Russia for over five months after she was stopped at an airport for possessing vape cartridges containing hashish oil, which is illegal in the country. She faced a maximum of 10 years in prison, though she will be credited with five months time served.

Calls to free the WNBA star have escalated in the months since her detainment and put a considerable amount of pressure on the Biden administration to act. Last week, Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced discussions of a potential prisoner exchange.

He said the proposal includes exchanging Griner and former Marine Paul Whelan, who has been detained in Russia since 2019, for convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout.

President Joe Biden said in a brief comment on Friday that he was "hopeful" and his administration was "working hard" to bring Griner home.

Pomeranz said that whether Griner is a "political hostage" is "up for interpretation," but the only way to get Griner out of Russia is through diplomacy.

"Diplomatic negotiations are ongoing, but, clearly, because the Biden administration has made the most overtures, the Russians are in the driver seat of when and how Brittney Griner gets home," said Pomeranz.

Pomeranz added that Griner's guilty conviction under Russian law may help.

"I think the Russians will be more inclined to negotiate. But how fast? I just don't know," said Pomeranz.

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Ten miners remain trapped underground in flooded tunnel for nearly two days in Mexico

Julio Cesar Aguilar/AFP via Getty Images

(NEW YORK) -- Ten miners remain trapped underground in a flooded tunnel in northern Mexico on Friday after first becoming trapped nearly two days ago.

Mexican officials said the incident was reported around 1:35 p.m. on Wednesday, when miners allegedly encountered a tunnel filled with water that then flooded the Sabinas mine.

There were 15 miners inside when the flooding began, but rescuers were able to extract five of them on Wednesday, according to officials.

The remaining miners are trapped between two 200-foot deep mine shafts, with half of the area flooded with water, authorities said.

Laura Velazquez, Mexico's national coordinator of civil protection, said on Thursday that authorities are now working to pump water out of the flooded areas of the mine.

"We have not slept, we are working day and night, uninterrupted," Velazquez said at a briefing Thursday.

Velazquez said officials are strategically using the pumps to extract the greatest amount of water and gain access to the miners inside as soon as possible.

No one has had contact with the 10 miners who remain trapped since Wednesday.

Six special force divers arrived from the National Guard on Thursday morning, but officials had not given updates on their mission as of Friday morning.

Gov. Miguel Riquelme of Coahuila and Zaragoza state visited the Sabinas mine, located about 75 miles southeast of the Texas border, on Thursday.

Riquelme tweeted that work was being done through three wells to extract water using eight specialized pumps. Seventeen additional pumping teams with more resources were being called in, he added.

Riquelme said 150 people were working on the rescue, with officials from the Mexican Office of National Defense, the National Guard and expert rescuers from the Carboniferous region adding to the effort.

"The rescue work at the Agujita coal mine continues without rest, #Sabinas," Riquelme tweeted on Thursday evening.

This is the third mining incident in Sabinas since 2006; 65 people were killed that year in a mining blast, followed by another 14 miners that were trapped and confirmed dead after a different explosion in 2011.

Officials have not yet begun investigating this new incident's cause.

President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said in his daily press briefing on Thursday that investigations will have to come later.

"Those responsible -- the permits, the inspections, everything, all of that -- we are leaving until after. We already have the basic information. But let's not talk about that now, let's look to save the miners," he said.

The specific mine shaft where 10 workers are now trapped only began operations in January 2022, the secretary of Labor and Social Welfare said in a statement. However, the agency said there has been "no history of complaints of any type of anomaly."

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