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TOPIC: zaporizhzhia

In The News

Israel Hits 450 Gaza Targets, Putin Until 2030, Musk’s AI Chatbot

👋 Salaam alaykum!*

Welcome to Monday, where Israel continues to step up its air and ground assault on Gaza, Vladimir Putin aims to remain at Russia’s helm until 2030, and Elon Musk unveils a new “sarcastic” chatbot, Grok, to be integrated into X/Twitter. Meanwhile, Ireneusz Sudak in Warsaw-based daily Gazeta Wyborcza looks at how coal-loving Poland is learning to catch some rays.


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"Like Guerrilla War" — A Soldier's Dispatch From The Ukrainian Southern Front

Oleksandr Solonko, a military trooper and aerial scout, played an active role in combat operations in Bakhmut and later on the Zaporizhzhia front near Robotyne, where Ukraine is securing its breach of Russian defenses.

ROBOTYNE — Standing on the heights near Robotyne, one gazes upon the expansive steppe that stretches across the horizon. As far as the eye can see, the landscape is pockmarked with craters from mines, missiles, and bombs. Each new day brings another round of shelling, which makes the steppe look more and more like the lunar surface of the Moon.

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A horrible smell fills the air — a combination of debris, dead mice, trench rats, and the still un-retrieved corpses of Russian occupiers. In this putrid environment, one longs for a breath of fresh air.

The Russians had ample time to establish a heavily fortified defense in this region. What appears as mere centimeters on a map translates into kilometers of minefields, trenches, anti-tank ditches, and other obstacles intricately woven into the landscape.

We maneuver through meticulously chosen routes that the enemy recently abandoned and now monitor 24/7. The Russians are aware that we can move mostly forward and backward along these routes as the ground around them is littered with anti-personnel and anti-tank mines. It has reached the point where the Russians set explosives and traps even around their own positions, leaving only narrow paths to retreat through. We navigate trench lines, forest strips, and fields, all while the Russians relentlessly shell us.

The enemy also relentlessly tracks our units and equipment from the air, bombarding us with UAVs, swarming us with "Lancets," and steadily increasing the use of FPV drones. They have air superiority, more artillery power and more men.

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Doubts About The Evil Of Putin's War? The Torture Chambers Of Melitopol Are A Chilling Reminder

Melitopol, Ukraine has been occupied by Russian forces since Feb. 2022, and the occupiers have set up prisons where residents are routinely tortured. Russian independent news site Vazhnyye Istorii/Important Stories spoke with people who have escaped these nightmarish prisons.

In Ukraine's Zaporizhzhia region, the city of Melitopol has been under Russian occupation since the beginning of the full-scale invasion in 2022.

Stay up-to-date with the latest on the Russia-Ukraine war, with our exclusive international coverage.

The city has transformed into a hub of partisan resistance, while also becoming the largest prison in Europe. Russians have kidnapped and subjected hundreds of local residents to torture. These are the stories of some of the residents who have survived.

On Feb. 25, 2022, Russian military forces entered Melitopol, Ukraine. Initially, residents resisted the Russian invaders, demanding that they vacate their land. As one resident, Maxim Ivanov, a 29-year-old landscape designer from Melitopol, recalled, "The first week [the Russian military] reacted with restraint. They didn’t fight. When people asked: 'Why are you here? Get out of here!' they lowered their heads and looked away in shame. But then they began to bear their fangs, they brought in the special services, opened commandants’ offices and torture chambers. And then they started taking people away."

Russian occupation of Melitopol

Maxim and his girlfriend Tatyana Bekh were among the first to be kidnapped in early April 2022.

"We left the house,” he said. “I had a [Ukrainian] flag with me. An armored personnel carrier was driving nearby, I took out the flag, waved it and shouted: 'Get off our land.' They stopped and about 10 people surrounded me, threw the flag to the ground, and forced me to the ground. They said: 'Now we’ll take you to be re-educated.'"

When I said that I wouldn’t shout this crap, they started beating me with rubber batons.

They were held overnight at the local commandant's office, where other detainees were also held for pro-Ukrainian sentiments or violating curfew.

"[The Russian military] said: 'Did you shout 'Glory to Ukraine'? Now shout: 'Glory to Russia.'” Maxim recounted. “When I said that I wouldn’t shout this crap, they started beating me with rubber batons." Two days later, they were pressured to sign a document stating they supported Russian leadership and were eventually released.

In March, such abductions became widespread, prompting the launch of the Ukrainian hotline "Vikradeni Melitopoltsi" (Kidnapped Melitopol Residents). This hotline provided guidance to people reporting the abduction of their relatives, offering advice on what to do next and connecting them with psychologists for support.

Natalya, a call center employee, said that initially the Russians targeted individuals from local government bodies. As the occupation continued, school directors and teachers who resisted teaching according to Russian programs were also kidnapped. “They took away veterans who had fought in 2014,” she said, “And a lot of businessmen were kidnapped for ransom."

Since the start of the full-scale war, hotline workers have documented 311 abductions, with 107 people still in captivity, and 56 individuals whose whereabouts remain unknown. The Vikradeni Melitopoltsi hotline estimates that the actual number of abductees may be three to four times higher.

Torture chambers

Russian security forces, especially during the initial year of occupation, tried to compel residents of Melitopol to cooperate with the occupation authorities through kidnappings and abuse.

Sergei, a businessman in Melitopol who worked on equipment repair, refused to collaborate with Russia from the outset. He was persistently pressured to change his stance.

"I refused to work with Russia from the first day,” he said. “They told me that I could be useful to them, but I refused. I wanted to sit quietly until my release, but they didn’t let me."

In Sept. 2022, Sergei was abducted and taken to what had once been a school. According to him, Russian Guard personnel occupied the first and second floors, while torture chambers were set up in the basements, warehouses and gym.

"There was a room with chains inside,” he said. "Next to it there was a small gym in which they kept people. They sat on the floor in the corners with bags over their heads."

Sergei endured several hours of beatings, during which he was subjected to false claims propagated on Russian television. He resisted these claims, insisting that there were no Nazis in Melitopol, where he had lived his entire life. For each "incorrect" response, he faced further punishment and threats against his family's safety.

An individual identifying himself as an "FSB colonel" later arrived and issued an ultimatum: either Sergei accepted a job within the new administration or left the "liberated territories" within two days. To seal this arrangement, the "FSB colonel" demanded $6,000. Sergei complied and handed over the money, and within days, he and his family left the city.

Photo of Melitopol's police HQ, where Maxim Ivanov says he was tortured for two months.

Melitopol's police HQ, where Maxim Ivanov says he was tortured for two months.

Melitopol City


On the morning of Aug. 22, landscape designer Maxim Ivanov and Tatyana Bekh ventured out into the streets to distribute leaflets in support of Ukraine's Independence Day (Aug. 24). Their efforts were cut short when they were apprehended by what Maxim described as a "squad of so-called policemen."

The police found the leaflets and other incriminating messages on Maxim's phone, leading to their second detention at the police department on Chernyshevsky Street. Tatyana believed that someone from the local community had reported them, stating, "There are people who will turn you in. If they call the Russian police and report you, they can earn money."

Occupation authorities in some areas launched Telegram bots, encouraging people to report information about "saboteurs." Those whose reports resulted in detainment were promised a reward of 500,000 rubles ($5,000).

Maxim admitted to sharing coordinates of Russian equipment movements via a Ukrainian chatbot on Telegram. He understood the risks but felt compelled to resist the Russian occupiers in some way. He recounted his ordeal, explaining that during his initial interrogation, he was beaten at the police station and ended up with multiple broken ribs. The following day, he endured further severe beatings.

He described one particularly gruesome incident: "A bag over my head, they took me out. They threw me down and started beating me with metal poles and wooden sticks. I felt it all in my ribs, in my back. Then they put a metal bucket on my head and started hitting it hard with something. I began to lose consciousness.”

The beatings persisted over several days, with Maxim and fellow detainees eventually being allowed to shower, which came as a welcome relief.

Kidnappings are common in Melitopol

Another resident, Alexey, who had been living in a village near Melitopol, was also captured.

He faced extreme physical violence and threats, including an attempt to break his finger with pliers.

"I had been driving home, and the Russian military stopped me. They asked my name, I answered, and they immediately pulled me out of the car and laid me on the ground."

By this point in Nov. 2022, abductions had become so commonplace that Alexey was not entirely surprised. He believed that a fellow villager may have tipped off the authorities about his pro-Ukrainian sentiments, though he had not openly expressed them. Following his arrest, he was taken to an apartment where a search was already underway. Despite not being a Ukrainian partisan, they accused him of having ties to the underground resistance.

During his 36 days in captivity, Alexey endured three interrogations. He was asked the same questions over and over about other pro-Ukrainians, weapon locations, and his Telegram messages. He faced extreme physical violence and threats, including an attempt to break his finger with pliers.

He managed to secure his release after his friends and relatives, who lived outside the occupied territory, drew attention to his disappearance. Negotiations led to his eventual release, albeit at a high financial cost.

Electric shocks

In their quest to apprehend spies and partisans, the Russian military resorted to abducting individuals who had no connection to the resistance movement.

One such individual was 23-year-old Leonid Popov, who had initially come to Melitopol from the Poltava region to celebrate the New Year in 2022 with his father. As the occupation unfolded, Leonid began documenting his observations in a diary, sharing some of the grim details with his mother, Anna.

His entries chronicled the constant gunfire, people's descent into madness and the looting of grocery stores. He even witnessed a man shot dead on the streets. Despite Anna's persistent pleas for him to evacuate, Leonid insisted on staying, believing he was needed in the city. He used the money his mother sent him to aid needy Melitopol residents and refugees from Mariupol.

They tied me to the wall, laughed at me, threw knives, and tortured me with electric shock,

In May 2022, Leonid was abducted for the first time. He was forced into a vehicle and taken to the commandant's office, where he endured a horrific ordeal of interrogation and torture over three days.

"Drunk men working for Kadyrov tied me to the wall, laughed at me, threw knives, and tortured me with electric shock," he said.

Photo of a street in Melitopol

In Melitopol, Zaporizhzhia Oblast

Wikimedia Commons


In another incident, Leonid's younger brother, Yaroslav, was among several Melitopol residents who fell victim to mass kidnappings when mobile communications became unavailable in the city in May 2022.

Yaroslav and others were detained for venturing out after curfew, and they were all crowded into a cramped cell. They shared the cell with a man whose incessant screaming provoked threats from the military. The man ultimately died from the abuse.

He had gone without food for days and was given minimal water.

Following his initial kidnapping and torture, Leonid chose to remain in Melitopol for an entire year. Only in April 2023 did he agree to leave the city with volunteers, but two days before his planned departure, he disappeared once more.

Leonid's father reported his disappearance to the police, where he was reassured that his son was likely undergoing a two-week check. However, weeks turned into months, and Leonid was not released. Despite promises from civilian and military police representatives to locate him, Anna only learned of her son's fate from one of his cellmates.

In June, an individual contacted Leonid's father, revealing that Leonid was being held in the commandant's office basement alongside the caller's son. Leonid was in a dire condition, severely malnourished, and suffering from harsh treatment. He had gone without food for days and was given minimal water. Anna was deeply concerned for her son, as he had been diagnosed with schizophrenia at the age of 17, and stress could have a severe toll on his mental health.

Leonid's health deteriorated significantly during his captivity. Three months after his abduction, he was brought to the gastroenterology department weighing just 40 kilograms.


After Maxim and Tatyana endured electric torture, Tatyana was released, but Maxim continued to be subjected to beatings for another month. Maxim's condition deteriorated to a critical state. "I couldn’t walk anymore,” he said. “I was literally crawling on all fours and was leaving streaks of blood everywhere I went."

In late Oct. 2022, Maxim was deported to Ukrainian-controlled territory. When he reached the Ukrainian checkpoint and saw the Ukrainian flag, he felt an overwhelming sense of relief..

Both Tatyana and Maxim now reside in Zaporizhzhia. Tatyana found employment at a factory, while Maxim, still grappling with the physical and psychological aftermath of torture, is unable to work. He experiences excruciating pain from his ribs and toes, which have not yet fully healed.

Alexey, who was released a month after his brothers paid a ransom on his behalf, described his emotions upon regaining his freedom. “I was overwhelmed,” he said. At the same time, he felt “disgusted by friends who had collaborated with the occupation authorities. I no longer wish to see them.”

Anna Makhno, Leonid's mother, remains in the dark about her son's whereabouts. Five months have passed since his abduction, but she still has not received any news.

These harrowing accounts underscore the grim reality faced by individuals caught in the conflict in Melitopol, where torture and abuse are key tools for Russian occupiers to assert their authority.
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Ukraine's Counteroffensive: A Breakthrough Across The "Surovikin Line"

The area around Robotyne, in southeastern Ukraine, has been the centre of a fierce two-month battle. Ukrainian publication Livy Bereg breaks down how Ukrainian forces were able to exploit gaps in Russian defenses and push the counteroffensive forward.

Updated October 2, 2023 at 6:25 p.m.

ROBOTYNE — Since the fall of 2022, Russian forces have been building a series of formidable defensive lines in Ukrainian territory, from Vasylivka in the Zaporizhzhia region to the front in Vremivka in the Donetsk region.

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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War
Yuri Fedorov

Why Negotiating With Russia Would Be A Disaster For Ukraine — And The World

A month into Ukraine's counteroffensive, claims that it has failed are wildly premature. Even more troubling are the steady whispers that Kyiv must sit down with Russia to negotiate. But it's clearer than ever that only complete Ukrainian victory can bring lasting peace.


KYIV — "The quickest way of ending a war is to lose it," George Orwell once remarked.

We're reminded of those words recently as we hear more and more calls for negotiations. Since mid-June, about 10 to 12 days after the Ukrainian counteroffensive began, a number of Western political scientists and journalists, claiming to cite anonymous government sources, have argued that the Ukrainian offensive is proceeding too slowly. If it continues to stall, they say, the West will reduce or completely withdraw support from Ukraine, forcing Kyiv to agree to a ceasefire and enter into negotiations with Russia.

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American political scientist Graham Allison argues that if Ukraine does not seize the chance presented by the recent Wagner coup “to break the stasis that governs the battlefield in eastern Ukraine, we will enter a very different chapter in this conflict... Many of Ukraine’s supporters in Europe and even in the United States will join the Global South’s chorus calling for both sides to stop the killing and begin serious negotiations about a cease-fire."

Russian voices, including those who consider themselves in opposition to the current regime, echo the Western skeptics.

The reasoning behind this type of thinking is straightforward: if the Ukrainian Armed Forces were unable to achieve immediate success by overpowering the enemy's defenses, penetrating operational territory, and capturing Melitopol and Mariupol in one decisive strike, it would be more prudent to avoid sacrificing the lives of Ukrainian and Russian soldiers.

Instead, it would be preferable to engage in diplomatic negotiations. This outcome would please activists from the Global South, left-wing pacifists, and certain circles in Western countries who may desire to maintain Russia's presence, possibly by replacing Putin with a more acceptable dictator.

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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

Is Ukraine's Counteroffensive On Hold?

Ukraine's counteroffensive has been marked by grueling combat. Independent Russian news site Agenstvo spoke to military experts who explain why progress is slow and how worrying the situation is for Ukraine.


KYIV — The recent Ukrainian counteroffensive actions have made headlines in the past few weeks. But it remains unclear if this is the long-awaited counteroffensive that seeks to reclaim vast swathes of Russian-occupied territories or if the activities undertaken by Ukraine were probing attacks, aimed at assessing Russia's defensive capabilities.

While the true nature of the situation remains unclear amid the fog of war, it is evident that intense battles are taking place in eastern and southern Ukraine.

Military experts told the independent Russian news site agency.media (Agenstvo), that the Ukrainian counteroffensive has significantly slowed down. They say the reason is that the Russian army has strong defenses, air superiority and has improved its coordination and logistics.

According to the analysts, Kyiv is pausing its counteroffensive to reassess its plans and has not yet deployed around 85% of its prepared forces.

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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War
Anna Akage

Putin's Hidden Message In Dam Explosion: If Cornered, I Will Stop At Nothing

The Nova Kakhovka dam explosion was undoubtedly carried out by Putin, putting both Ukrainian and Russian lives at risk. The explosion makes clear that there are no limits to how far Putin will go. That has been his message since Day One of the war.


Southern Ukraine is still reeling from the explosion at the Nova Kakhovka dam on the Dnipro River. The surrounding Kherson region, where Ukraine retook several key towns and cities last November, is flooding as water levels on both banks of the river rose by 10 meters, forcing thousands of Ukrainians to evacuate.

The catastrophe may lead to the shutting down of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, the nuclear reactors of which are cooled by water from the Dnipro.

With enormous consequences on a human, environmental and strategic levels, Kyiv and Moscow are blaming each other for the explosion. But it is simply unfathomable that Ukraine could be responsible for the attack — both, because it wouldn't make sense for Ukraine to attack its own people — and because the disaster is a major impediment from Kyiv's much-anticipated military counteroffensive.

Yes, the bombing of the dam was ordered by Russian President Vladimir Putin to try to slow down his coming military losses. But there is another, deeper explanation for this attack at this moment in time: it's a clear message to the world that there are no limits to Putin’s aggression. Especially when his back is against the wall.

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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War
Iryna Gamaliy

Ukrainians In Occupied Territories Are Being Forced To Get Russian Passports

Reports have emerged of children, retirees, and workers being forced by the Russian military and occupying administration to obtain Russian Federation passports, or face prison, beating or loss of public benefits.

It's referred to as: "forced passportization." Reports are accumulating of police and local authorities in the Russian-occupied territories of Ukraine requiring that locals obtain Russian passports. Now new evidence has emerged that Ukrainians are indeed being coerced into changing their citizenship, or risk retribution from occupying authorities.

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Ever since late September, when President Vladimir Putin announced Russia hadd unilaterally annexed four regions in eastern and southern Ukraine (Luhansk, Donetsk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson), Moscow has been seeking ways to legitimize the unrecognized annexation. The spreading of Russian passports is seen as an attempt to demonstrate that there is support among the Ukrainian population to be part of Russia.

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In The News
Anne-Sophie Goninet, Emma Albright, Laure Gautherin and Bertrand Hauger

China Clampdown After Protests, Ukraine Nuclear Plant In Limbo, Word Of The Year

👋 Saluton!*

Welcome to Monday, where China appears to be stepping up security amid an unprecedented challenge to Xi Jinping’s rule as COVID protests spread across the country, Ukraine says Russian forces are leaving the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant (which Moscow denies), and Merriam-Webster reveals its 2022 Word of the Year. Meanwhile, independent Russian media outlet Vazhnyye Istorii/Important Stories offers an exclusive look into how the Kremlin’s propaganda curriculum is playing out in Russian schools.


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In The News
Cameron Manley, Bertrand Hauger and Emma Albright

Why Are There No Peace Talks? Kremlin And Kyiv Trade Blame

Kremlin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov insisted that Russia has no choice to continue the war because of Ukraine’s "unwillingness to negotiate."

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“First they negotiate, then they refuse to negotiate, then they pass a law that prohibits any kind of negotiations, then they say they want negotiations, but public ones,” Peskov told reporters.

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In The News
Cameron Manley, Sophia Constantino and Bertrand Hauger

Putin’s Martial Law Dismissed As “Propaganda Show,” “Desperate Tactic”

Russia's martial law for the occupied territories of Ukraine is a "pseudo-legalization of looting of Ukrainians' property," said another official in Kyiv.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is fast-tracking the imposition of martial law in the four occupied territories of Ukraine — Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhia — which he now considers annexed parts of Russia.

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But Kyiv and its Western allies are reacting with disdain more than fear or worry. Residents of Kherson have reported receiving mass text messages warning the city would be shelled and informing them that buses would be leaving from the port from 7 a.m. on Thursday. Andriy Yermak, chief of staff to the Ukrainian president, described Russian announcements as “a propaganda show,” adding that the population transfers amounted to “deportations”

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In The News
Shaun Lavelle, Anna Akage, Bertrand Hauger and Emma Albright

Russia Also Takes Aim At Civilians Indirectly, 30% Of Power Stations Destroyed

Blackouts and water shortages will cause major suffering, especially as winter arrives.

Russian attacks have continued into Tuesday on Ukraine’s energy and water facilities. Parts of Kyiv and other cities were left without power and water. In a video released on Twitter, Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelensky said that 30% of Ukraine’s power stations had been destroyed in the past eight days, causing massive blackouts across the country.

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Zelensky noted that Moscow was continuing to target civilians both directly and indirectly through air strikes aimed at energy supplies as winter approaches. It’s “another kind of Russian terrorist attacks: targeting energy & critical infrastructure,” the Ukrainian president said.

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