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In The News

Both Kyiv And Moscow Refuse To Back Down In Fight For Kherson

As Moscow and Kyiv direct their troops toward the southern Ukrainian city, the strategic and symbolic value cannot be overstated.

Both Kyiv And Moscow Refuse To Back Down In Fight For Kherson

People evacuated from the Kherson Region

Anna Akage, Alex Hurst, and Bertrand Hauger

Kyiv and Moscow both appear ready for a major battle to control the contested Ukrainian city Kherson. Statements by Ukrainian officials and recent troop movements from both sides indicate heavy fighting to come in the key southern city.

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Russia still controls the city despite recent Ukrainian counteroffensives in the area that have retaken significant territory, and Moscow has reportedly been reinforcing areas around Kherson with more soldiers. Russian media Vazhnyye Istorii spoke Wednesday with several local residents in Kherson who reported an uptick in looting and forced evacuations by occupying forces loyal to Moscow.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian defense officials have said that they are confident that they willultimately retake Kherson from Russian control. “The Russians are assembling their forces, which means nobody is ready to withdraw,”said Oleksiy Arestovych, an advisor to the Ukrainian president. “The heaviest of battles will happen in Kherson.”

For weeks, Russian forces have either evacuated or forced civilians to leave the western side of the Dnipro river for the eastern bank. And Russia recently accused Ukraine of preparing a “dirty bomb,” an accusation the United States, France, Germany, and the UKdenounced as transparently false, warning Russia against any such type of ‘false flag’ operation.

Why Is Kherson So Important?

Kherson is a Ukrainian port city located on both the Black Sea and the Dnieper River. With a pre-war population of just over 280,000, the city was an economic center and home to an important ship-building industry.

Russian forces took over Kherson in March, during the initial days of the invasion, causing roughly half the city’s population to flee. Capturing the city gave Russia control over major sources of freshwater supplies to Crimea. Last month, Russia claimed to have annexed the Kherson region, along with three others, in illegal referendums not recognized by the international community.

Kherson has been a major target of the fall Ukrainian counteroffensive. Retaking large parts of the Kherson region would deprive Moscow of a land corridor to Crimea, would help Kyiv regain control over parts of the Black Sea coastline important to food exports, and would be of major symbolic value eight months after it fell into Russian hands.

Putin Prongs Government To Accelerate Weapons And Food Delivery To Troops

Russian President Vladimir Putin

Alexei Babushkin/TASS

Vladimir Putin chaired a new committee aimed at speeding up the production and delivery of weapons and food supplies to Russian troops, notably by taking bureaucratic shortcuts.

Speaking Tuesday to the "Coordination Council for Meeting the Needs of the Special Military Operation" committee, the Russian president said that “If we work within the framework of standard bureaucratic procedures, hiding behind formalities, we will not get the desired result in any direction. It is in order to resolve all issues faster and more efficiently that we have created such a mechanism as a coordination council.”

New UK Prime Minister Sunak Invited By Zelensky, Speaks With Biden

Ukrainian President Zelensky invited new British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to Kyiv in a phone call on Sunak’s first full day at 10 Downing Street.

"I believe that the partnership between our countries and the already traditional British leadership in the protection of democracy and freedom will only continue to be strengthened. I invited Mr. Prime Minister to visit Ukraine," Zelensky said.

Meanwhile, U.S. President Joe Biden and Sunak agreed to work together to support Ukraine in a phone call just hours after the prime minister took office.

In the U.S., progressive congressional representatives have come under fire for a letter that was released this week calling on Biden to engage in direct diplomatic talks with Russia over a Ukraine cease-fire, perhaps signaling dissent on the topic in Congress. The letter has since been retracted.

Ukraine Tells Refugees “Not To Come Back Just Yet” Ahead Of Tough Winter

Ukrainian refugees depart the train in Lviv Ukraine

Thomas O'Neill/NurPhoto/Zuma

Amid ongoing blackouts caused by Russian drone and missile strikes on the country’s power grid, Ukraine’s Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk has asked those Ukrainians who fled the country after Russia’s invasion, “not to come back just yet.”

“We need to survive this winter. [If people come back] the electrical grid might fail,” she said. “You see what Russia is doing. Everybody sees that. Coming back now means exposing yourself, your children, vulnerable relatives to this.”

Russian Paramilitary Group Recruiting Afghan Commandos To Fight In Ukraine

Foreign Policy reports that Afghan fighters who were left without work after the withdrawal of the U.S. from their country began to receive offers to join Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“Multiple Afghan military and security sources say the U.S.-trained light infantry force, which fought alongside U.S. and other allied special forces for almost 20 years, could make the difference Russia needs on the Ukrainian battlefield,” Foreign Policy reports.

Russia’s Wagner Group paramilitary organization — infamous for its particular cruelty and recruitment of convicts — is believed to be orchestrating the recruitment of the Afghan fighters. The wages offered by Wagner are much more attractive than those of Pakistan, Iran, or Turkey.

Israeli Anti-Drone System Used On Ukraine Battlefield

A serviceman uses a Garpun handheld anti-drone weapon

Stanislav Krasilnikov/TASS

An Israeli drone warfare system called Smart Shooter has made its debut on the battlefield, allowing Ukrainian troops to effectively destroy Iranian-made drones used by Russia, Israeli military intelligence news outlet Debka reports.

It is the first Israeli technology found in the Ukrainian army since the beginning of the war, although Israel's official position reportedly remains unchanged: Tel Aviv refrains from supplying weapons to Ukraine, although it condemns Russia's actions and Iran's sale of kamikaze drones.

The Israeli systems came to Ukraine via Poland. In September, the Times of Israelrevealed that one of the Israeli defense companies negotiated the deliveries through an intermediary, at the same time claiming that it did not know how the systems would subsequently get to Ukraine. The Israeli Defense Ministry decided to look the other way, and let the companies cooperate with Poland.

The Minister of Defense of Israel, Beni Ganz, publicly rejected Kyiv's request to provide military equipment in the wake of the discovery that Russia is using Iranian-made kamikaze drones. Still, Ganz has promised to provide early detection systems for airborne threats.

South Africa Lets Russian Oligarch Dock His Yacht In Cape Town

South Africa says it will allow a sanctioned Russian oligarch to dock his 465-foot long yacht in Cape Town. The $521 million yacht belongs to Alexei Mordashov, an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Western leaders had urged the South African government to seize The Nord but a spokesman for President Cyril Ramaphosa said he saw "no reason" to comply with EU or U.S. sanctions.

Western countries and their allies have imposed sanctions on more than 1,000 Russian individuals and businesses in response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine last February. Meanwhile on Monday, Cape Town Mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis, a member of the opposition Democratic Alliance party, urged officials to block the yacht’s entry, writing on Twitter that there could be "no place in our city for accomplices to, and enablers of, Putin's war."

Testimony From Russian Mother Looking For Her Mobilized Son

Thousands of Russian mothers exchange messages every day online in desperate bids to find their missing sons serving in the Russian army. In Russian daily Vazhnyye Istorii/Important Stories, Ekaterina Fomina tells the story of one such mother who has been looking for her son for seven months:

“I got a call from the Ministry of Defense. They said that my son was in captivity. They called back the next day: no, your son went missing. And then complete nonsense began: either he was captured again, then he was missing, then he is not reported as dead, which means he is serving. I started looking for my son myself.”

Read the full article here, translated from Russian by Worldcrunch.

Mercedes-Benz Leaves Russia

Mercedes-Benz becomes the latest carmaker to leave Russia. Mercedes said on Wednesday that it would also sell shares in its industrial and financial services subsidiaries to a local investor.

After suspending activities in Russia in early March, Mercedes-Benz Russia said shares in the local subsidiaries would be sold to car dealer chain Avtodom, which will select a technology partner to continue operating the production facilities at the Esipovo industrial estate northwest of Moscow, where Mercedes-Benz has a production plant.

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Migrant Lives

They Migrated From Chiapas When Opportunities Dried Up, Orchids Brought Them Home

An orchid rehabilitation project is turning a small Mexican community into a tourist magnet — and attracting far-flung locals back to their hometown.

They Migrated From Chiapas When Opportunities Dried Up, Orchids Brought Them Home

Marcos Aguilar Pérez takes care of orchids rescued from the rainforest in his backyard in Santa Rita Las Flores, Mapastepec, Chiapas, Mexico.

Adriana Alcázar González/GPJ Mexico
Adriana Alcázar González

MAPASTEPEC — Sweat cascades down Candelaria Salas Gómez’s forehead as she separates the bulbs of one of the orchids she and the other members of the Santa Rita Las Flores Community Ecotourism group have rescued from the rainforest. The group houses and protects over 1,000 orchids recovered from El Triunfo Biosphere Reserve, in the southeastern Mexican state of Chiapas, after powerful storms.

“When the storms and heavy rains end, we climb to the vicinity of the mountains and collect the orchids that have fallen from the trees. We bring them to Santa Rita, care for them, and build their strength to reintegrate them into the reserve later,” says Salas Gómez, 32, as she attaches an orchid to a clay base to help it recover.

Like magnets, the orchids of Santa Rita have exerted a pull on those who have migrated from the area due to lack of opportunity. After years away from home, Salas Gómez was one of those who returned, attracted by the community venture to rescue these flowers and exhibit them as a tourist attraction, which provides residents with an adequate income.

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