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Italy’s Right-wing, Led by Meloni, Wins Election – Exit Polls

A right-wing alliance led by Giorgia Meloni’s Brothers of Italy party looks set to win a clear majority in the next parliament, exit polls said Sunday after voting ended in an Italian national election.
An exit poll for state broadcaster RAI said the bloc of conservative parties, that also includes Matteo Salvini’s League and Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party, won between 41% and 45% of the vote, enough to guarantee control of both houses of parliament.

Italy’s electoral law favors groups that manage to create pre-ballot pacts, giving them an outsized number of seats by comparison with their vote tally.

Full results are expected by early Monday.

If confirmed, the result would cap a remarkable rise for Meloni, whose party won only 4% of the vote in the last national election in 2018, but this time around was forecast to emerge as Italy’s largest group on 22.5%-26.5%.

As leader of the biggest party in the winning alliance, she is the obvious choice to become Italy’s first woman prime minister, but the transfer of power is traditionally slow, and it could take several weeks before the new government is sworn in.

Meloni, 45, plays down her party’s post-fascist roots and portrays it as a mainstream conservative group. She has pledged to support Western policy on Ukraine and not take undue risks with the third largest economy in the eurozone.

Italy’s first autumn national election in over a century was triggered by party infighting that brought down Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s broad national unity government in July.

Italy has a history of political instability, and the next prime minister will lead the country’s 68th government since 1946 and face a host of challenges, notably soaring energy costs and growing economic headwinds.

The outcome of the vote was also being watched nervously in European capitals and on financial markets, given the desire to preserve unity in dealings with Russia and concerns over Italy’s daunting debt mountain.

The new, slimmed-down parliament will not meet until Oct. 13, at which point the head of state will summon party leaders and decide on the shape of the new government.


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In Moldova, Thousands Protest in New Call for Government’s Resignation

Several thousand people protested in Moldova’s capital Sunday for the second straight weekend to demand the resignation of the country’s pro-Western government amid mounting anger over spiraling natural gas prices and inflation.

The small east European nation, sandwiched between Ukraine and Romania, has seen political tensions rise in recent months as gas prices soar following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

A Reuters reporter estimated the crowd at about 5,000 outside the official residence of President Maia Sandu — slightly smaller than last Sunday’s gathering.

Protesters chanted “Down with Maia Sandu,” and “Down with the government.”

The rallies are the largest since Sandu won a landslide election victory in 2020 on an anti-corruption platform but pose no immediate threat to the president and her administration.

Sandu has repeatedly condemned Moscow’s actions in Ukraine and is pushing for membership of the European Union, which has provided the ex-Soviet state with considerable assistance.

Her critics charge she should have negotiated a better gas deal with Russia, Moldova’s main supplier.

On Friday, Moldova’s gas regulator raised prices by 27% for households.

The protests have been organized by the opposition party of Ilan Shor, an exiled businessman convicted of fraud in connection with a $1 billion bank scandal. The chief suspect in that fraud, business magnate Vlad Plahotniuc, is also outside Moldova, his whereabouts unknown.

Prime Minister Natalia Gavrilita said she was focused on helping those with low incomes.

“The problems of the country and its people will not be solved on the streets,” she wrote on the point.md news site. “We are trying to solve the problems of people most in need.” Protesters have vowed to hold weekly rallies until Sandu and her government leave office.

An encampment of about 100 tents remains around Moldova’s parliament and Sunday protesters set up another dozen tents outside the president’s residence. 


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Pope urges Italians to Have More Children, Welcome Migrants 

Pope Francis traveled to southern Italy on Sunday to close out an Italian church congress that coincided with Italy’s national election, and delivered a message that hit on key domestic campaign issues including immigration.

Neither Francis nor his hosts referred to the vote during the open-air Mass, though Italy’s bishops conference had earlier urged Italians to cast ballots in the eagerly watched election that could bring Italy its first far-right government since World War II.

At the end of the outdoor Mass in Matera, Francis spoke off the cuff asking Italians to have more children. “I’d like to ask Italy: More births, more children,” Francis said.

Italy has one of the lowest birth rates in the world and Francis has frequently lamented its “demographic winter.”

Far-right leader Giorgia Meloni, who campaigned on a “God, family and homeland” mantra, has also called for Italy to reverse its demographic trends by proposing bigger financial incentives for couples to have children.

Francis also weighed in on a perennial issue in Italy, recalling that Sunday coincided with the Catholic Church’s World Day of Migrants and Refugees. Francis called for a future in which “God’s plan” is implemented, with migrants and victims of human trafficking living in peace and dignity, and for a more “inclusive and fraternal future.”

He added: “Immigrants are to be welcomed, accompanied, promoted and integrated.”

Meloni and her center-right alliance have vowed to resume a strict crackdown on migrants coming to Italy via Libyan-based smugglers. The center-left Democratic Party has among other things called for an easier path to citizenship for children of newcomers.

The Mass was celebrated by a protege of Francis, Cardinal Matteo Zuppi, who is head of the Italian bishops’ conference and has a long affiliation with the Sant’Egidio Community, a Rome-based charity known for its outreach to migrants and the poor.

The 85-year-old Francis appeared tired during the visit, which was scheduled before Italy’s snap elections were called and came a day after he made a separate day trip to the Umbrian hilltop town of Assisi. Francis has been using a cane and wheelchair this year, due to strained knee ligaments that make walking and standing difficult.

His trip to Matera, the southern Basilicata city known for its cave dwellings, underwent a slight, last-minute change due to storms that belted much of the Italian peninsula overnight: Originally scheduled to fly by helicopter Sunday morning from the Vatican’s helipad, Francis instead flew to Matera by jet from Rome’s Ciampino airport.


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Italians Vote in Election That Could Take Far-Right to Power

The Italians voted Sunday in an election that could move the country’s politics sharply toward the right during a critical time for Europe, with war in Ukraine fueling skyrocketing energy bills and testing the West’s resolve to stand united against Russian aggression. 

Polls opened at 7 a.m. (0500GMT) and by noon turnout was equal to or slightly less than at the same time during Italy’s last general election in 2018. The counting of paper ballots was expected to begin shortly after they close at 11 p.m. (2100 GMT), with projections based on partial results coming early Monday morning.

Publication of opinion polls is banned in the two weeks leading up to the election, but polls before that showed far-right leader Giorgia Meloni and her Brothers of Italy party, with its neo-fascist roots, the most popular. That suggested Italians were poised to vote their first far-right government into power since World War II. Close behind was former Premier Enrico Letta and his center-left Democratic Party.

“Today you can help write history,” Meloni tweeted Sunday morning.

Letta, for his part, tweeted a photo of himself at the ballot box. “Have a good vote!” he wrote. 

Meloni is part of a right-wing alliance with anti-migrant League leader Matteo Salvini and Silvio Berlusconi, the three-time premier who heads the Forza Italia party he created three decades ago. Italy’s complex electoral law rewards campaign coalitions, meaning the Democrats are disadvantaged since they failed to secure a similarly broad alliance with left-leaning populists and centrists.

If Meloni becomes premier, she will be the first woman in Italy to hold the office. But assembling a viable, ruling coalition could take weeks.

Nearly 51 million Italians were eligible to vote. Pollsters, though, predicted turnout could be even lower than the record-setting low of 73% in the last general election in 2018. They say despite Europe’s many crises, many voters feel alienated from politics, since Italy has had three coalition governments since the last election — each led by someone who hadn’t run for office.

Early voters in Rome expressed concerns about Italian politics as a whole.

“I hope we’ll see honest people, and this is very difficult nowadays,” said Adriana Gherdo, at a polling station in the city. 

In Milan, voter Alberto Veltroni said he thought the outcome was still anyone’s guess.

“I expect that these will be difficult elections to read, to understand, with unexpected votes as opposed to the polls ahead of elections,” he said.

The election in the eurozone’s third-largest economy is being closely watched in Europe, given Meloni’s criticism of “Brussels bureaucrats” and her ties to other right-wing leaders — she recently defended Hungary’s Viktor Orban after the European Commission recommended suspending billions of euros in funding to Hungary over concerns about democratic backsliding and the possible mismanagement of EU money.

Elections are being held six months early after Mario Draghi’s pandemic unity government collapsed in late July. Italy’s president, Sergio Mattarella, saw no alternative but to have voters elect a new Parliament.

Opinion polls found Draghi, a former European Central Bank chief, hugely popular. But the three populist parties in the coalition boycotted a confidence vote tied to an energy relief measure. Their leaders, Salvini, Berlusconi and 5-Star Movement leader Giuseppe Conte, a former premier whose party is the largest in the outgoing Parliament, saw Meloni’s popularity growing while theirs slipped.

Meloni kept her Brothers of Italy in the opposition, refusing to join Draghi’s unity government or Conte’s two coalitions that governed after the 2018 vote.

She further distanced herself from Salvini and Berlusconi with unflagging support for Ukraine, including sending weapons so Kyiv could defend itself against Russia. Her nationalist party champions sovereignty.

Before Russia’s invasion, Salvini and Berlusconi had gushed admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin. In the final days of the election campaign, Salvini criticized Russian atrocities in Ukraine but Berlusconi raised eyebrows by saying Putin merely wanted to put “decent” people in government in Kyiv after pro-Moscow separatists in Donbas complained they were being harmed by Ukraine.

Many factories in Italy face cutbacks — some already have reduced production — and other business might close as they struggle with gas and electricity bills reaching 10 times higher than a year ago. The major candidates, despite their political leanings, agreed on the urgency for a EU-wide price cap on energy prices, or failing that, a national one.

Draghi, who remains in a caretaker role until a new government is sworn in, had for months already pressed EU authorities in Brussels for the same remedy.


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Milan Fashion Week Hears Calls for More Designer Diversity

Haitian Italian designer Stella Jean returned to the Milan runway after a two-year hiatus with a tour de force that highlighted the talents of 10 new designers of color whose design history is tied to Italy.

Jean pledged in 2020 not to return to Milan Fashion Week, which opened Wednesday, until she was not the only Black designer. The We Are Made in Italy movement she founded with Black American designer Edward Buchanan and Afro Fashion Week Milano founder Michelle Ngomno ensured she would not be.

Maximilian Davis, a 27-year-old British fashion designer with Afro-Caribbean roots, is making his debut as the creative director for Salvatore Ferragamo. Filipino American designer Rhuigi Villasenor is bringing Bally back to the runway for the first time in 20 years. Tokyo James, founded by British Nigerian designer Iniye Tokyo James, is presenting a women’s-only collection.

Jean is headlining a runway show with Buchanan and five new We Are Made in Italy designers, including a Vietnamese apparel designer, an Italian Indian accessory designer and an African American bag designer. It is the third WAMI group to present their collections in Milan.

“We are making ourselves felt,” Jean told The Associated Press. “We invited all these young people. We created the space. There have been gains.”

Buchanan opened the show with jersey knitwear with a denim feel from his Sansonvino 6 line, followed by capsule collections by the latest group of Fabulous Five WAMI designers, and Jean’s creations combining Italian tailoring with artisanal references she sources around the globe.

Each of the new WAMI designers share a connection with Italy, either through family or by relocating to study or work here.

Italian Indian designer Eileen Claudia Akbaraly showed her Made for a Woman brand that makes ethically sourced raffia garments and accessories from Madagascar. New York-based designer Akila Stewart founded the FATRA bag brand that works with reused plastic waste. India-born Neha Poorswani designs shoes under the name “Runway Reinvented.” Vietnamese designer Phang Dang Hoang’s apparel line mixes Asian and Western cultures, and Korean designer Kim Gaeun’s Villain brand combines elements of traditional Korean costumes mixed with modern hip-hop culture.

“There are so many Italians who are not Italians, who are immigrants who feel Italian. I think that is so beautiful,” Stewart said.

The show closed on a celebratory note, with the models, designers and activists gathered on the runway, clapping and swaying to Cynthia Erivo’s song Stand Up.

Both Trussardi and Vogue Italia have used WAMI’s database of fashion professionals of color who are based in Italy, although the listings have not been employed as industrywide as the founders hoped. One of the designers from the first WAMI class, Gisele Claudia Ntsama, has worked in the design office at Valentino.

Giorgio Armani, who helped launch Stella Jean in 2013, pitched in with textiles for the new WAMI capsule collections to be displayed here. Conde Nast and European fashion magazine nss are helping to fund their production. The three WAMI founders are covering the rest from their own pockets after the fashion council offered a venue for the show but limited funding compared with previous seasons.

Ngonmo said Italian fashion houses too often confuse diversity — such as showcasing Black models — with true inclusivity, which would involve employing professionals in the creative process.

“I have a feeling they don’t understand at all what diversity means. They tend to confuse diversity with inclusion,” she said.

Buchanan said he holds on to his optimism but acknowledged that the post-pandemic market is difficult as stores are not investing in collections by new designers.

“We knew going into this that this was going to be a slow grow,” Buchanan said. “Working with the designers, we have to be transparent about what is ahead of them. … They are not going to be Gianni Versace tomorrow.”

Jean noted that the new designers for major fashion brands did not come up through the Italian system but from abroad. Despite the progress, she and her collaborators still see some resistance to hiring people of color in creative roles and to the idea that “Made in Italy” can involve homegrown Black talent.

“It is more glamorous to have someone from the outside,” she said.

Jean said she is also waiting for the Italian fashion council to follow through on an invitation to create a multicultural board within its structure. She said she feels the initial industry embrace of the diversity project has cooled.

“None of us believed the totality of the promises. Now we are entering a territory that we know well, when people feel free and comfortable not to maintain promises. It is obvious,” Jean said.

As for her future: “I am at a crossroads,” the designer said. “My traveling companions are outside the door that I was allowed to enter. For a while, being the only one in the room, you feel special. But when you see that many of those who are still outside the door are better than you, you understand that you were not special. You were very lucky.”


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Russia’s Lavrov Dismisses Western ‘Hysteria’ Over Ukraine Referenda

Russia’s foreign minister has dismissed Ukrainian and Western condemnation of what they say are sham referenda in four regions of Ukraine.

“The hysteria which we have seen is very telling,” Sergey Lavrov told a news conference at the United Nations on Saturday, after he addressed the General Assembly’s annual meeting.

Voting began Friday and will run through Tuesday in the provinces of Luhansk, Kherson and the partially Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhia and Donetsk regions. Polls also opened in Russia, where refugees and other residents from those areas could vote.

In Ukraine, some local officials said voters were being intimidated and threatened.

Kyiv and Western nations warn that the referenda are aimed at annexing the occupied areas and denounce them as a violation of international law.

“As was said by President Putin, we will unconditionally respect the results of these democratic processes,” Lavrov said.

Ukraine says it will never accept Russian control of any of its territory and has requested that the U.N. Security Council meet Tuesday to discuss the escalation.

The referenda were quickly organized after Ukraine recaptured large swaths of the northeastern part of the country in a counteroffensive earlier this month.

By annexing the four areas into Russia, Western officials fear Moscow could portray Ukrainian military operations to retake them as an attack on Russia itself, potentially even using that to justify a nuclear response.

Calls for peace

At the United Nations, Russia’s strategic partners urged an end to the conflict, which has exacerbated global food, fuel and financial crises.

China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, said Beijing does not want to see the crisis “spilling over” and called for talks.

“The fundamental solution is to address the legitimate security concerns of all parties and build a balanced, effective and sustainable security architecture,” he said.

India’s foreign minister said his country respects the U.N. Charter and sees dialogue and diplomacy as the “only way out.”

“It is therefore in our collective interest to work constructively, both within the United Nations and outside, in finding an early resolution to this conflict,” Subrahmanyam Jaishankar said.

Asked about engaging with the U.S. or Europeans, Russia’s Lavrov says his government is not opposed to it.

“We aren’t saying no to contacts,” he said, adding that “it is always better to talk than not to talk.” But he emphasized that in the present situation, Russia would not take the first step.

Mass crimes

The head of a U.N. commission of inquiry said Friday that war crimes including rape, torture and the confinement of children have been committed in Russian-occupied areas of Ukraine.

“Based on the evidence gathered by the commission, it has concluded that war crimes have been committed in Ukraine,” commission head Erik Mose told the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva.

He did not specify who was to blame, but the commission has focused on areas previously occupied by Russian forces, such as Kyiv, Chernihiv, Kharkiv and Sumy.

Investigators from the commission, created by the rights council in March, visited 27 places and interviewed more than 150 victims and witnesses.

In New York, the Russian foreign minister has said mass graves at Bucha were staged and claimed Saturday that Kyiv had denied access to foreign reporters to alleged new graves found in the city of Izium.

But VOA’s Myroslava Gongadze is in Izium, where she reported from a mass graveyard that more than 400 bodies were unearthed, many found with their hands tied behind their backs, ropes around their necks, broken bones and gunshot wounds.

Mobilization fallout

Meanwhile, an independent Russian human rights group says more than 1,000 people were detained across the country at demonstrations Saturday for protesting President Vladimir Putin’s order calling up 300,000 military reservists to fight in Ukraine. It is Russia’s first military call-up since World War II.

The independent OVD-Info protest monitoring group said it was aware of detentions in 32 different cities, from St. Petersburg to Siberia. Unsanctioned rallies are illegal under Russian law, which also forbids any activity considered to defame the armed forces.

Footage from the some of the protests showed Russian officers carrying men and leading women to police vans.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed information to this report.  


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After Partial Russian Retreat, Chilling Signs of Horrors Against Ukrainians Revealed

Almost 2,000 innocent people have been killed by Russian forces in Bucha, Irpin, Mariupol, Ukraine – some just for speaking Ukrainian or having Ukrainian symbols. VOA’s Eastern Europe Bureau Chief Myroslava Gongadze was granted exclusive access to the scene of a mass graveyard in Izium in the Kharkiv region that contains more than 400 bodies.

Most of them apparently died particularly violent deaths, with many victims found with their hands tied behind their backs, ropes around their necks, broken bones, and gunshot wounds.

United Nations experts and Ukrainian officials have pointed to new evidence of war crimes in Ukraine.

The head of a U.N.-mandated investigation body said Friday war crimes including rape, torture and the confinement of children have been committed in Russian-occupied areas of Ukraine.

“Based on the evidence gathered by the commission, it has concluded that war crimes have been committed in Ukraine,” Erik Mose, who heads the Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine, told the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva.

He did not specify who was to blame, but the commission has focused on areas previously occupied by Russian forces, such as Kyiv, Chernihiv, Kharkiv and Sumy.

Investigators from the commission, created by the rights council in March, visited 27 places and interviewed more than 150 victims and witnesses

A U.S. envoy told the council, “Numerous sources indicate that Russian authorities have interrogated, detained and forcible deported between 900,000 and 1.6 million Ukrainian citizens.”

U.S. Ambassador Michele Taylor, U.S. permanent representative to the council, added, “We urge the commissioners to continue to examine the growing evidence of Russia’s filtration operations, forced deportations and disappearances.”

Russia denies deliberately attacking civilians.

Russia was called on to respond to the allegations at the U.N. Human Rights Council meeting, but its seat was left empty. There was no immediate official reaction from Moscow.

Mobilization fallout

In the meantime, more than 730 people were detained across Russia at protests Saturday against a mobilization order of 300,000 military reservists, a rights group said, three days after President Vladimir Putin ordered Russia’s first military call-up since World War II for the conflict in Ukraine.

The independent OVD-Info protest monitoring group said it was aware of detentions in 32 different cities, from St. Petersburg to Siberia. Unsanctioned rallies are illegal under Russian law, which also forbids any activity considered to defame the armed forces.

Footage from the same protest showed Russian officers carrying men and leading women to police vans.

Russia’s first public mobilization since World War II—to shore up its faltering invasion of Ukraine—also has triggered a rush for the border by eligible men.

Russian referendums

Western nations and Ukraine have labeled a “sham” the voting on referendums in Russian-held regions of Ukraine asking residents if they want their regions to be part of Russia. Voting began Friday on Russian referendums aimed at annexing four occupied regions of Ukraine. Some local officials said voters were being intimidated and threatened.

In the balloting, scheduled to run from Friday to Tuesday in the provinces of Luhansk, Kherson and the partly Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhia and Donetsk regions, voters are being asked if they want their areas to become part of Russia.

Polls also opened in Russia, where refugees and other residents from those areas could vote.

The West and Ukraine said the voting is illegal under international law.

“Any elections or referenda on the territory of Ukraine can only be announced and conducted by legitimate authorities in compliance with national legislation and international standards,” the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said in a statement. “Therefore, the planned ‘referenda’ will be illegal.”

Ukrainian officials said people were banned from leaving some occupied areas until the vote was over, armed groups were going to homes to force people to cast ballots, and employees were told they could be fired if they did not participate.

Serhiy Haidai, Ukraine’s Luhansk governor, said in the town of Starobilsk, the population was banned from leaving and people were being forced out of their homes to vote.

“Today, the best thing for the people of Kherson would be not to open their doors,” said Yuriy Sobolevsky, the displaced first deputy council chairman of Kherson region.

The results of the referendums, expected soon after the voting, are almost certain to support joining Russia.

“We are returning home,” said the Russian-backed leader of Donetsk, Denis Pushilin. “Donbas is Russia.”

“All of us have been waiting for a referendum on joining Russia for eight long years,” said Leonid Pasechnik, the Russian-backed leader of Luhansk. “We have already become part of Russia. There remains only a small matter – to win [the war].”

Ukraine says it will never accept Russian control of any of its territory.

The referendums were quickly organized after Ukraine earlier this month recaptured large swaths of the northeast in a counteroffensive.

By incorporating the four areas, Moscow could portray attacks to retake them as an attack on Russia itself – potentially even using that to justify a nuclear response.

In a televised address this week, Putin said the West is trying to weaken and destroy Russia and that his country will “use all the means at our disposal to protect Russia and our people.”

Some information for this report came from The Associated Press and Reuters.


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Ukrainian Push Slowed by Rain, River and Russian Holdouts

What had been a lightning push by Ukraine to drive Moscow’s forces from the eastern Kharkiv region slowed to a brutal slog Saturday, stalled by heavy rain and Russian resistance.

In the frontline town of Kupiansk against a background of constant shelling noise a column of dark smoke rose across the Oskil River, which separates the Ukrainian-held west bank from the east, still disputed by Russian forces.

“For now, the rain is making it difficult to use heavy weapons everywhere. We can only use paved roads,” Ukrainian army sergeant Roman Malyna told AFP, as tanks and APCs maneuvered under the downpour.   

“For now, because it’s hard to move forward due to the weather, we are targeting their armored vehicles, ammunition depots and groups of soldiers,” he said.  

On Friday, Kupiansk’s military administrator Andriy Kanashevych told AFP that it might take Ukrainian forces 10 days to fully secure the area.

Most of the shellfire on Saturday was outgoing — Ukrainian artillery targeting Russian positions in the woods beyond the east of the town — but with a Russian drone spotted overhead tension prevailed.  

A few refugees were walking toward Ukrainian territory across the damaged bridge, its handrails still painted in the red, white and blue colors of Kupiansk’s former Russian occupiers.

Two Ukrainian soldiers, well-equipped with U.S.-style assault rifles and body armor, and in good spirits despite fatigue and concern over the Russian drone buzzing above the debris-strewn road, also crossed back.

One of them, using the nom de guerre “Mario,” said it was too soon to say when the east bank would come completely under Ukrainian control but was confident the Russians were in retreat.  

“Only their bodies will be left behind,” he said.

“In general, it’s all good, taking into account the scale of the operation, we’ve had almost no losses,” he told AFP.  

Most of Kupiansk, a key rail hub once used by Russia to supply its forces further south on the Donetsk battlefront, fell to Ukraine in this month’s counterattack against the invader.

But a narrow strip of the Kharkiv region on the east side of the Oskil River remains in Russian hands and prevents Ukraine from pushing on into the Lugansk region, which Moscow holds and is seeking to annex.

“Yes, we have enough weapons and men, but it depends on what happens on the other side,” Sergeant Malyna said, referring to the Russian forces.  

“They are trying to find the weak points in our defensive line. So, they try to attack us from time to time using tanks and marines.

“Our morale is good. We are ready to fight, but we need more heavy weapons and more precision weapons,” he said, repeating a common Ukrainian appeal for more advanced arms from Kyiv’s Western allies.

While the fighting continues, many civilians have fled a town that is without electricity and running water, and where shells whistle overhead.   

Some, however, have nowhere to go and are reliant on food aid deliveries.

Civilians still cluster around portable generators in the doorways of five-story concrete apartment blocks as the rain courses down, charging tablets, flashlights and razors.

Most say they are glad that Ukrainian forces returned to free the town from Russian occupation, but the ongoing fighting has taken a toll.

Retired trapeze artist Lyudmila Belukha, 74, once performed for the Soviet-era Moscow Circus.  

“I traveled across the entire Soviet Union and abroad, too,” she said.

A widow — her late husband was a fellow circus performer — she lives alone in a Kupiansk housing estate.

Her sister has moved to Greece, while she has been without news of her nephew, who lives on the eastern bank of the river, for months.

“I’m at home alone, with my cats. Absolutely alone. My kitchen and balcony windows are broken. I need plastic wrap to fix them because it will be getting cold. I’m freezing,” she said.

She was picking up a food parcel from humanitarian volunteers and said she was not starving, but: “We have no water, no gas, and no electricity. Nothing. There’s no way to even boil water for tea.”


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