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Russia-Ukraine live updates: Ukraine urged to investigate use of landmines in Izium

SAMEER AL-DOUMY/AFP via Getty Images

(NEW YORK) -- More than 10 months 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 in November pulled out of key positions, retreating from Kherson as Ukrainian troops led a counteroffensive targeting the 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 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."

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Iranian exile wounded in demonstrations against regime speaks out

ABC News

(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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Blinken meets with Abbas amid heightened Palestinian tensions with Israel

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(RAMALLAH, West Bank) -- Wrapping up a visit to the Middle East amid cascading violence between Israelis and Palestinians, Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday announced that senior U.S. officials would remain in the region to continue discussions on "constructive ideas for practical steps that each side can take to lower the temperature" despite indications from leaders that a peaceful solution remains well beyond reach.

"We have no illusions that heightened tensions can be diffused overnight. But we're prepared to support efforts here and with partners in the region if the parties have the will to do so," Blinken said during a news conference in Jerusalem.

The secretary's engagements in Israel have revealed little reason for optimism. During joint remarks with President Mahmoud Abbas, the long-running leader of the Palestinian Authority said he was ready to work the U.S. to advance the rights of Palestinians but placed blame for recent violent attacks solely on Israel and accused other powers of turning a blind eye.

"We affirm that the Israeli government is responsible for what's happening these days, because of its practices that undermine the two-state solution and violate the signed agreements, and because of the lack of international efforts to dismantle the occupation and the settlement regimes, and the failure to recognize the Palestinian state and its full membership in the United Nation," he declared.

Abbas also claimed that the Palestinian Authority had "exhausted all means with Israel to stop its violations" and had been forced to undertake decisions to protect its people, perhaps in reference to its suspension of security cooperation with Israel following a deadly raid in the Jenin refugee camp carried out by Israeli Defense Forces last week.

The Israeli government has described the raid as an urgent counterterrorism operation and said that six of the nine killed were militants, but Palestinians have denounced the event as a massacre.

Authorities fear the raid may have motivated a number of recent attacks on Israelis, including a shooting at an East Jerusalem synagogue of Friday that claimed seven lives.

Blinken expressed said he expressed "condolences and sorrow for the innocent Palestinian civilians who have lost their lives in escalating violence over the last year" and announced that the U.S. would contribute $50 million to United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, which supports the needs of Palestinian refugees.

The secretary also expressed some of the Biden administration's misgivings about the Palestinian Authority, saying the two discussed the importance of regime "continuing to improve its governance and accountability" and emphasized that the U.S. was looking "to both sides to actively condemn any acts of violence, regardless of the victim or the perpetrator."

But despite Blinken's repeated urging against escalation during his visit, neither Abbas nor the numerous Israeli officials he met with echoed his direct pleas for peace.

Blinken also reaffirmed the U.S.' long held commitment to implementing a two-state solution multiple times, but was realistic about currently dim prospects, saying the immediate goal was "restoring calm."

"Over the longer term, we have to do more than just lower tensions," he said.

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Suicide bomber detonates inside mosque in Pakistan, killing and wounding hundreds

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(ISLAMABAD) -- A suicide bomber detonated explosives inside a mosque in northwestern Pakistan on Monday, killing and wounding hundreds of worshippers, officials said.

The blast occurred at a Sunni mosque inside a major police facility in Peshawar, the capital of Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, not far from the country's border with Afghanistan. More than 300 people were said to be praying there when the suicide bomber struck. An eyewitness told ABC News that the roof collapsed from the impact.

Security and government officials confirmed the explosion was from a suicide bomber. The Pakistan Taliban -- known as Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, or TTP -- have claimed responsibility for the attack.

At least 100 people were killed and more than 170 others were injured in the blast, a local hospital spokesperson told ABC News. Most of the wounded have since been discharged from the hospital but 53 remain for treatment, including seven in the intensive care unit. Many of the dead were police officers, according to the hospital spokesperson.

It was unclear how the suicide bomber was able to gain entry into the walled compound and get to the mosque. The facility also houses the police headquarters for Peshawar and is itself located in a high-security zone with other government buildings.

Pakistani Prime Minster Shehbaz Sharif, who visited the scene in Peshawar on Monday, condemned the bombing and urged people to donate blood to help save the wounded.

The U.S. Embassy in Islamabad also issued a statement condemning the "horrific attack."

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Saudi death penalty use has almost doubled under rule of Mohammed bin Salman: Report

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(LONDON) -- The use of the death penalty under the rule of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and his father, King Salman, has almost doubled annually since they rose to power, according to a new report seen by ABC News.

The report, published on Tuesday by the non-profit European Saudi organization for Human Rights (ESOHR) and the anti-death penalty charity Reprieve, titled “Bloodshed and Lies: Mohammed bin Salman’s Kingdom of Executions,” says that the average number of executions has risen 82% under their rule, even as the country has projected a modernizing image to the outside world.

The number of executions annually has risen from an average of 70.8 between 2010-2014, to 129.5 per year since 2015, when the current king and crown prince came to power. Despite official claims that the death penalty does not apply to minors, at least 15 child defendants have been executed in the Kingdom since 2010, according to the data published by the human rights groups. Over 1,000 executions have been carried out in Saudi Arabia since 2015, the report said.

The report also looked into the increasing use of mass executions, such as the record number of 81 people executed on a single day in March of last year on a range of charges, including terrorism. The UN’s High Commissioner Human Rights groups condemned the mass execution, saying that the regime had implemented “an extremely broad definition” of terrorism that includes non-violent acts.

“The explosion in the number of executions in Saudi Arabia under Mohammed bin Salman is a crisis the international community cannot continue to ignore,” Reprieve Director Maya Foya shared in a statement. “Every data point in this report is a human life taken … And all while MBS lies to the world that he has reformed the system to reduce the number of people executed. When the US, UK and EU go along with these lies, it makes the next mass execution more likely.”

Human rights groups have long expressed concerns that the kingdom’s human rights record has been overlooked by the international community in favor of geopolitical and economic interests. The Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not immediately respond to ABC News’ request for comment.

However, the BBC received a statement from the Saudi Embassy in London in response to an investigation into the death penalty, which said other countries around the world use the death penalty at their own discretion.

"As we respect their right to determine their own laws and customs, we hope that others will respect our sovereign right to follow our own judicial and legislative choices," the statement said.

The judicial system that convicts defendants for capital crimes is shrouded in secrecy, according to the report, with the government often not notifying the defendants’ families and returning their bodies.

“This report provides a glimpse at what Saudi justice looks like now that MBS has been emboldened by Western governments that have failed to hold him accountable for the killing of Saudi dissident and journalist Jamal Khashoggi, as well as numerous other crimes and abuses including Yemen war,” Abdullah al Oudah, whose father currently faces a death sentence, said in a statement shared with ABC News. “My father is possibly facing the death penalty any moment just because he called for peace and tweeted for reforms.”

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Commander says Western tanks will give Ukraine battlefield 'advantage'

ABC News

(DONETSK REGION, Eastern Ukraine) -- Eagerly awaiting the arrival of state-of-the-art tanks from Western allies, Ukrainian tank commander Ihor Levchenko told ABC News he's confident that compared to the "rusty and old" contraptions he now operates, the prized armored combat vehicles will give his country "a very significant advantage on the battlefield."

Levchenko showed ABC News the Soviet-era-design tanks he and his battalion now use, concealed in a small woodland in eastern Ukraine and within earshot of the constant thud of artillery from the front lines a few miles away.

He moved seamlessly and quickly around his T-72 tank, hopping on and off and maneuvering his body through the narrow circular metal hatches in a relaxed and familiar manner.

For many, the idea of going into battle crammed inside a dark green, aging metal contraption is a petrifying option. However, Levchenko, a seasoned tank commander, admitted fear helped him focus when in battle.

"The ones who do not get scared, are the ones that get killed," Levchenko said.

At the urging of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, President Joe Biden signed off last week on sending 31 M1 Abrams tanks to the war-torn country as concerns mount over a new Russian offensive this spring.

Germany also confirmed last week that it will supply Ukraine with Leopard 2 tanks and approve requests by more than a dozen other countries to do the same. In total, Ukraine has been promised more than 100 Leopard 2 tanks by its allies.

The United Kingdom has also committed 12 of its Challenger 2 battle tanks to Ukraine.

In briefings, the U.S. and other Western officials have praised the Ukrainians' skill and ingenuity at quickly adapting to new types of weaponry. Some Ukrainian tank units are already being trained in the U.K., on Challenger 2 tanks, according to the British Ministry of Defense.

"Western tanks will give us a very significant advantage on the battlefield. I'm very confident about that," Levchenko said.

Juxtaposed to the Soviet-era tanks he now drives into battle, the Russians have more advanced models with night and thermal vision to hunt out enemies.

For a Ukrainian soldier, Levchenko is as highly decorated as they come.

When his tank was hit by rocket-propelled grenades in June, Levchenko said he took hold of the machine gun mounted on top, killing the Russian soldiers firing the RPGs and, according to Ukraine's army, saving his crew in the process. He was awarded a medal in the shape of a golden star, making him "a hero of Ukraine."

In briefings, the U.S. and other Western officials have praised the Ukrainians' skill and ingenuity at quickly adapting to new types of weaponry. Some Ukrainian tank units are already being trained in the U.K. on Challenger 2 tanks, according to the British Ministry of Defense.

"We are going to learn, we are going to study," Levchenko told ABC News. "We have internet, we have officers who are going to teach us. The main thing is to give us those tanks."

Asked if he's ready for a likely Ukrainian offensive in the coming weeks, Levchenko said, "Of course. Just give us the order!"

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Blinken visits Israel amid heightened tensions with Palestinians

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(JERUSALEM) -- Secretary of State Antony Blinken began a potentially high stakes visit to Israel on Monday as the Biden administration seeks to deepen collaboration with the nation's new hard-line government on security concerns in the Middle East -- while preventing resurgent tensions between Israelis and Palestinians from erupting into full-scale fighting.

Blinken met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose conservative coalition narrowly won back power in late 2022. Although concerns that Netanyahu's far-right coalition will weaken Israel's democracy and counter the Biden administration's agenda have persisted since he regained power, both officials praised each other during public remarks following closed-door talks, with the secretary describing their conversation as "very productive" and "very candid."

Following their meeting, the secretary said that he had stressed directly to Netanyahu that as the U.S. and Israel work to better its relations with the country's neighboring Arab countries, the Biden administration expects to simultaneously "improve the daily lives of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza" while moving toward a two-state solution that would ultimately see the creation of independent homelands for both Palestinians and Israelis.

"As I said to the prime minister, anything that moves us away from that vision is -- in our judgment -- detrimental to Israel's long-term security, and its long-term identity as a Jewish and democratic state. That's why I'm urging all sides now to take first steps to restore calm, to de-escalate," Blinken said.

Although the secretary's trip to Israel was previously scheduled, it comes at a particularly tumultuous time for the country, where recent days have been marked by violent clashes between Israelis and Palestinians, including a terrorist attack on a synagogue Friday in Jerusalem that left seven dead.

In an unusual move for the secretary, Blinken addressed cameras from a tarmac in Tel Aviv as soon as he touched down in Israel, voicing his condolences to the families and friends of the victims.

"To take an innocent life in an act of terrorism is always a heinous crime. But to target people outside their place of worship is especially shocking," he said. "Friday's attack was more than an attack on individuals. It was also an attack on the universal act of practicing one's faith."

Blinken also called for an end to the cycle of retribution.

"Calls for vengeance against more innocent victims are not the answer, and acts of retaliatory violence against civilians are never justified," he said.

The shooting came just a day after a raid in the West Bank carried out by the Israeli military killed nine Palestinians -- the deadliest operation in the territory in over two decades. The incident prompted the Palestinian Authority to suspend its security coordination with Israel, a development the administration decried.

Blinken's agenda for his visit extends far beyond the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Among the most pressing issues facing both countries is the ever-growing threat posed by Iran and its expanding nuclear program, now unhindered by any diplomatic agreement or even the hope that a pact can be restored.

"It's a time where many of the international community, I would say most of the international community have seen the true face of Iran. They've seen the barbarism this machine against its own people. They've seen how it exports aggression beyond its borders, and beyond the Middle East. And I think there's a common consensus that this regime does not acquire nuclear weapons," Netanyahu said.

The secretary concurred, adding that the two officials had discussed "deepening cooperation to confront and counter Iran's destabilizing activities in the region and beyond" during their face to face.

This comes in the wake of a drone attack on an Iranian military facility which was allegedly carried out by Israel, according to media reports. Blinken was asked about the strike during a press availability in Egypt, where he stopped before visiting Israel, but declined to comment.

The Pentagon denied any participation by the American military but did not provide a further assessment of the event.

Iran's reported contributions to Russia's war effort in Ukraine were also top of mind for Blinken as he began his engagement with Netanyahu.

According to two U.S. officials, Blinken planned to urge Israel's government to send additional military support to Ukrainian forces, including the potential transfer of HAWK air defense missiles.

However, the odds of immediate progress on that front remain low, the officials advise. Israel has so far ignored most requests to supply advanced weaponry to Ukraine as it has strived to maintain a cooperative relationship with Russia due to its security interests in Syria and Moscow's potential ability to restrict its operations in the country.

Blinken's public remarks on the subject were limited, but he said that he conveyed "the importance of providing support for Ukraine's needs humanitarian, economic and security, as it bravely defends his people and its very right to exist" to the Israeli prime minister.

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Search for tiger on the loose in South Africa

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(LONDON) -- South African authorities were attempting to capture a young tiger on the loose in a Johannesburg suburb on Monday.

The 9-month-old female tiger was captured on surveillance video early Monday while circling a parked car outside an office building in the town of Edenvale, northeast of South Africa's largest city. The animal was also reportedly spotted roaming a residential area.

South African security company SOS Security said in a Facebook post later Monday that the tiger was successfully captured, sedated and taken to a sanctuary. However, the Edenvale SPCA said it has yet to receive any evidence or proof of such claims and thus urged local residents to keep "animals and children indoors and safe until we can provide feedback."

"We will not confirm that this tiger is safe, alive or at a place of safety until we have the facts," the Edenvale SPCA said in a Facebook post on Monday evening. "We can assure our community that we will not leave matters there. This matter will be investigated and an update will be given to our community. This tiger deserves nothing less."

SOS Security did not immediately respond to ABC News' request for comment.

It was unknown where the big cat came from and whether it was an escaped pet.

It was the second time this month that a tiger has been on the loose in South Africa.

About two weeks ago, another female tiger escaped from her enclosure on a private property in Walkerville, southwest of Johannesburg. The tiger, named Sheba, reportedly attacked and injured a man and killed two dogs. After several days, Sheba was captured and euthanized, sparking fury and reviving the debate over South Africa's controversial big cat industry.

The country is one of only a few in Africa where the commercial captive breeding, keeping, hunting and trading of tigers is still allowed. The industry was born out of the nation's legal practice of commodifying its captive-bred lions at every stage of life, from birth to death.

There are hundreds of private and government-owned facilities across South Africa that are legally breeding and raising thousands of lions as well as other big cat species, sometimes in tiny enclosures and unsatisfactory conditions. Cubs are separated from their mothers just days after birth, so the adult females can be continuously bred. The animals are then hand-reared so they grow up to be tame and used to humans. Cubs are used in petting attractions while they're very young and small. Adolescent lions are used in other tourist activities, such as walking with lions.

When they get too big to safely interact with tourists, the lions are either recycled back into the breeding industry or sold to other facilities where they will be gunned down in canned trophy hunts or killed for their bones. Lion bones, teeth and claws are typically shipped to East and Southeast Asia, both legally and illegally, where they are often used in jewelry or falsely advertised as tiger parts for luxury products.

In 2021, the South African government announced plans to end its multimillion-dollar captive lion industry and said it won’t oppose the international ban on the rhinoceros horn and elephant ivory trade. Since then, animal rights organization World Animal Protection said it has received intelligence reports that some lion farms appear to be shifting operations to tigers and lion-tiger hybrids.

A 2022 report by global animal welfare organization Four Paws found that a total of 359 live tigers and 93 tiger parts were exported from South Africa between 2011 and 2020, primarily to Vietnam, China and Thailand -- "all renowned hotspots for demand in tiger parts and illegal trade in tigers and tiger parts."

An estimated 12,500 tigers live in captivity around the world, compared with 4,400 that remain in the wild, according to a 2020 report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

The number of captive tigers in South Africa is unknown.

The South African Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment set up a team in late 2022 to look into a possible ban on tiger breeding and is expected to start work this year, a spokesperson told AFP earlier this month. ABC News has reached out for comment.

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French bakers under pressure as food, energy costs rise

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(PARIS) -- About 5,000 French bakers and other artisans in energy-guzzling fields, including butchery, dry-cleaning and carpentry, from all over the country marched in Paris last week, protesting against energy prices and requesting a tariff shield, said Pascal Wozniak, president of a collective for the survival of bakeries and craftsmanship, organizer of the rally.

Wozniak runs a bakery in Lembeye, a city of around 800 people in southwestern France, where he's the only artisan establishment in a 12-mile radius, said he has laid off four employees since the start of the pandemic.

Working with locally produced flour "Noste Pan," Wozniak was able to maintain prices at first, but with soaring energy prices "it was not even possible anymore, because even the farmers were impacted," he said. "It was a disaster!"

"We won't let anyone down," Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire said earlier this month after some professions raised concerns. He announced the deferral of payment on social and tax charges "for all bakers who have cash flow problems," completing the two measures already in place amounting to up to 40% discounts on energy bills.

But those steps haven't been nearly enough, the collective argued. Wozniak said he will lay off another employee soon, despite increasing his prices twice since July 2022.

Consumers who spoke with ABC News tended to agree with the need for more help.

Sophie Renard is "surprised" artisans don't receive more help, saying to ABC News she last heard of this issue earlier this month but not last week during the protest. Maï Lanoux also says she didn't hear about it, but is "quite surprised there is not more support" when being a baker "is an ancestral profession in France." That sentiment was echoed by Yohann Combelles, who said "these professions are France's pride."

"They are blackening the profession," Dominique Anract told ABC News in response to the demonstration, which he refused to call for as head of the National Confederation of French Bakery-Pastry. He said he blamed the financial management and choices made by some for the difficulties raised by the collective, advocating that lay-offs aren't "the right solution" and all prices must increase by 3% to 5%.

Anract's rhetoric is "completely disconnected" and not representative of small provinces, Wozniak said, adding "we don't have the same figures, the same customer flow," while "in Paris, they may not notice a 40 cents increase."

Philippe Séramy closed his bakery in Bourg-Lastic last May, due to the soaring prices of fuel oil, which was multiplied by three, he said. Then flour, sugar and butter rose with the start of the war on Ukraine. Séramy said his business was one of the early victims of the crises.

At 57, he and his wife have relocated to Clermont-Ferrand, where he's now baking bread for a large food retailer brand.

Couple Marie Toulza and Sébastien Picot know about this movement and support artisans, but Marie wonders if the rallying "will bear fruit," and "to what extent does it not compromise the work of the confederation."

If bakers aren't often in the streets, they spearheaded one the biggest labor-strike movements of the last century when they marched in 1947 against the government measures that led to food shortages and caused inflation to reach 60% over the year.

The bakery sector holds about 55% of the bread market, but Wozniak said he fears "if we increase too much, it will benefit the industrialists."

This time, these artisans are ready to kick things up a notch and promise more aggressive actions next month, with one simple slogan: "Let's resist!"

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Who rightfully owns a country's artifacts? Greece's fight over Parthenon marbles sparks debate

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(LONDON) --The Parthenon Sculptures, also known as the "Elgin Marbles" or "Parthenon Marbles" were taken from Greece in the early 19th century and have been displayed in Britain ever since – however, the debate over who rightfully owns these Greek artifacts continues to this day.

The British Museum and the Greek government are in the midst of talks over whether the museum will return the marbles.

The marbles were taken from the Parthenon between 1801 and 1805 by Lord Elgin, the British Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, according to the British Museum.

The museum says the Ottoman Empire was the governing authority over Athens at the time, and Elgin removed half of the remaining sculptures from the ruins of the Parthenon with the permission of Ottoman authorities.

Can a governing power such as the Ottoman Empire rightfully give away the artifacts of the cultural state it rules – like the Grecian marble sculptures?

The British Museum claims Elgin's transaction was done legally.

"His actions were thoroughly investigated by a Parliamentary Select Committee in 1816 and found to be entirely legal, prior to the sculptures entering the collection of the British Museum by Act of Parliament," the British Museum said.

However, Greek authorities disagree.

"The violent detachment of the Parthenon Sculptures from their physical context and the architectural setting that they were part of violated the laws, the common sense of justice and the established morals at the time," said the Office of the Secretary General for Greeks Abroad and Public Diplomacy in Athens in a statement to ABC News.

The Parthenon Marbles aren't the only cultural antiquity under debate.

Many museums around the globe, particularly those in imperialistic or colonialist countries, have been criticized for their massive collections of historically and culturally important artifacts that come from colonized countries.

Who owns the artifacts? Depends on who you ask.

Patrimony laws around the world protect cultural heritage by legally preserving antiquities, artifacts and to prevent international conflicts like the fight over the Parthenon Marbles.

However, these laws go as far back as 1891, with one of the first patrimony laws in Egypt, according to anti-racketeering group Antiquities Coalition. Many other countries around the world followed with protections of their own.

Anything taken before these protections were in place is where the argument of rightful ownership gets a bit complicated.

In some cases, it's up to the institution or museum to return an artifact that has been stolen, looted, or taken under precarious circumstances.

"A lot of people would think it's morally right, ethically right to return these objects," said Leila A. Amineddoleh, an attorney specializing in art, cultural heritage, and intellectual property law. "Some of them, like the Benin Bronzes, were taken under very violent and brutal circumstances … human lives were lost, and people were massacred.

The Benin Bronzes were stolen from Nigeria during a British raid in 1897 on Benin City, according to the Smithsonian Museum. The Smithsonian's Board of Regents voted to return the bronzes in June 2022 under the museum's new ethical returns policy.

"Not only was returning ownership of these magnificent artifacts to their rightful home the right thing to do, it also demonstrates how we all benefit from cultural institutions making ethical choices," said Lonnie Bunch, secretary of the Smithsonian, in a statement at the time.

Even so, a group of Nigerian Americans are suing to keep the Benin Bronzes in the U.S. They have accused the Smithsonian of a "breach of trust for failing to protect the interests of United States citizens descended from enslaved people" who could learn about their culture through the bronzes.

The question of morality in cultural preservation is an issue that's not black and white.

"The Parthenon is a symbol of Greece in ancient Athens," Amineddoleh said. "I don't really understand how the British Museum can continue to argue that they're keeping the work safe if, in fact, those objects were removed and destroyed the site [of the Parthenon.]"

What responsibility do museums have?

The Metropolitan Museum of Art has experience . The Met has recently returned works to Nepal, India and Nigeria in partnership with officials from each country.

Through the Met's own researchers and outside sources, the museum sometimes learns a work should be returned to its country of origin based on its policies or the laws of the country in which it originated.

"The Met has a long and well documented history of responding to claims regarding works of art, restituting objects where appropriate, being transparent about the provenance of works in the collection, and supporting further research and scholarship," Met officials told ABC News, saying it is one of the few institutions in the field to do so.

Those in favor of returning objects, like professor of political science at the University of South Africa Everisto Benyera, say it's a "form of reparation and restorative justice."

"What was stolen here are not mere artifacts, but they were important aspects of a civilization," Benyera said.

"While to some they are beautiful artifacts, to their owners – who are the victims of this theft – they are the missing link in connecting with those in the other realms of life such as the living dead, commonly known as the ancestors."

Grace Ndiritu, an artist and advocate for "de-colonizing" museums, told ABC News ancient art signifies the creativity and invention of a culture.

"Not only do [artifacts] show the mythologies and spiritual beliefs, they also show the innovation and the power of different tribes and different societies," said Ndiritu.

Ndiritu's work centers on "healing" museums, which she believes often perpetuate a colonizer mindset – that of taking stolen prized possessions from one nation and profiting from it or removing it from the context of the origin country's culture.

"Usually, objects were seen as prizes or possessions and not actually valued for their spiritual context or the cultural context," said Ndiritu.

Others, like the British Museum, argue that a diversity of these artifacts from around the world offer "wider cultural context and sustained interaction with the neighbouring civilisations."

"The collection is a unique resource to explore the richness, diversity and complexity of all human history, our shared humanity," the British Museum says on its website. "The strength of the collection is its breadth and depth which allows millions of visitors an understanding of the cultures of the world and how they interconnect – whether through trade, migration, conquest, conflict, or peaceful exchange."

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

7 killed in shooting at Jerusalem synagogue, suspect dead

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(JERUSALEM) -- Seven Israelis have been killed in a shooting at a synagogue in Jerusalem's Neve Yaakov neighborhood, according to Jerusalem District Police Commander Doron Turgeman.

Ten others were wounded in the Friday night shooting, according to the Israeli Foreign Ministry.

The suspect was killed by police, according to officials.

Responders confronted the suspect less than five minutes after the shooting was reported, according to Israeli police.

Turgeman said the suspect was a Palestinian who lived in East Jerusalem. It appears the 21-year-old suspect carried out the attack alone, Israeli police said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited the scene of the shooting late Friday.

U.S. Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides called the shooting a "horrific act of violence" on International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

"I am shocked and disgusted at this heinous terrorist attack on innocent people, including children," he tweeted. "Praying for all of the victims and their loved ones."

“Our thoughts, prayers and condolences go out to those killed and injured in this heinous act of violence," State Department principal deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel said Friday. "We condemn this terrorist attack in the strongest terms. Our commitment to Israel's security remains ironclad and we are in direct touch with our Israeli partners, and our thoughts are with the Israeli people in light of this horrific attack."

The shooting comes one day after nine Palestinians were killed when the Israeli Defense Forces reportedly stormed the Jenin refugee camp on the West Bank. The IDF was looking for a person of interest and Israel said that the resulting deaths came when clashes erupted between the IDF and Palestinians at the camp. The Palestinian Health Ministry said elderly women were among those who died.

Three rockets were fired overnight from Gaza into Israel, but they were all intercepted by Israel's air defense.

This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Top Islamic State leader killed in U.S. raid in Somalia, officials say

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(WASHINGTON) -- A risky military ground raid by U.S. special operations forces on a cave complex in northern Somalia on Wednesday night killed Bilal al-Sudani, a top leader and organizer with the Islamic State, U.S. officials said.

Al-Sudani was killed in a firefight along with 10 other fighters, according to the officials. There were no U.S. casualties in the raid, the officials said, emphasizing that there were also no civilian casualties -- though officials later clarified that one of the U.S. service members had suffered a dog bite from a dog serving with U.S. forces.

The officials said President Joe Biden had authorized the raid earlier this week after conferring with his national security team. The U.S. forces that conducted the raid had rehearsed it many times at a mock-up facility that simulated the target area -- a technique similar to what U.S. special operations forces did prior to the 2011 raid that killed Osama bin Laden at a compound in Pakistan.

U.S. forces had prepared for the possibility of capturing al-Sudani, the officials said, “but the hostile forces response to the operation resulted in his death.” The officials refused to say whether the timing of the operation indicated that there was an imminent attack threat to the U.S.

“On January 25, on orders from the President, the U.S. military conducted an assault operation in northern Somalia that resulted in the death of a number of ISIS members, including Bilal-al-Sudani, an ISIS leader in Somalia and a key facilitator for ISIS’s global network,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a statement.

“Al-Sudani was responsible for fostering the growing presence of ISIS in Africa and for funding the group’s operations worldwide, including in Afghanistan,” Austin continued.

“This action leaves the United States and its partners safer and more secure, and it reflects our steadfast commitment to protecting Americans from the threat of terrorism at home and abroad,” he said, praising "our extraordinary service members as well as our intelligence community and other interagency partners for their support to this successful counterterrorism operation.”

U.S. officials who briefed reporters on the raid described al-Sudani as a notorious extremist.

“[He] has a long history as a terrorist in Somalia. Before he joined ISIS, he was designated by the U.S. Treasury Department in 2012 for his role in [the group] Shabaab, helping foreign fighters to travel to an Al Shabaab training camp, facilitating financing for foreign violent extremists in Somalia,” one of the two U.S. officials told reporters.

“This operation was the result of extraordinary coordination and careful planning across all elements of the U.S. government for many months,” one of the officials said, noting having first seen the first intelligence on al-Sudani’s whereabouts months ago.

“An intended capture operation was ultimately determined to be the best option to maximize the intelligence value of the operation and increase its precision in challenging terrain," an official said. "At the same time, and based on extensive past experience, we recognize that even an intended capture operation might well result in al Sudani’s death -- as ultimately it did.”

The officials indicated that targeting terrorists remained among the government's top priorities.

“Through this operation and others, President Biden has made it very clear: We are committed to finding and eliminating terrorist threats to the United States and to the American people, wherever they are hiding, no matter how remote. That's the context for understanding yesterday's operation,” one of the officials said.

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


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