As Russia confirms it jailed missing Ukrainian journalist, calls mount for her release

Washington — Nearly eight months after a freelance journalist disappeared on assignment in Russian-occupied Ukraine, Moscow confirmed that the reporter is in its custody. 

Victoria Roshchyna, a contributor to Ukrainian media outlets including Ukrainska Pravda, had planned to report on what life is like for those living under Russian occupation.  

But shortly after passing through a border post on Aug. 3, 2023, communication between Roshchyna and her family ended. Since then, her family and colleagues have been trying to locate the journalist.  

Then last month, Russia’s Defense Ministry confirmed in a letter to the family that the reporter has been detained in Russian territory.  

The status of her health — as well as her specific whereabouts — are still unknown. It’s also unclear whether she has been charged with any crime.  

For the International Women’s Media Foundation, or IWMF, which awarded Roshchyna its 2022 courage award, there was a certain amount of relief in knowing that the journalist was detained. 

“Because there was also serious concern that she had been killed,” IWMF executive director Elisa Lees Munoz told VOA. 

Now their attention is on trying to secure Roshchyna’s release. 

“There’s no question that the detention is unjust. But there’s also little hope that there will be some sort of real justice applied in the near future,” Munoz said.  

The Russian Defense Ministry delivered the news of Roshchyna’s detention in a letter to her father. He then alerted the National Union of Journalists of Ukraine, or NUJU, about her detention. 

The media union released a statement this week demanding “the immediate and unconditional release from captivity of Victoria Roshchyna and other illegally captured journalists.” 

Russia’s Washington embassy did not immediately reply to VOA’s email requesting comment.  

Roshchyna’s family reported the journalist missing to Ukrainian authorities about a week after their last call, during which she said she had passed a border post.  

At the time, the Security Service of Ukraine, or SBU, told the family that the journalist may have been captured by Russian occupation forces. 

“We know that Ukrainian journalists working for independent media in the occupied territories are being hunted down by Russian forces,” Jeanne Cavelier, the head of the Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk at Reporters Without Borders, said in an October 2023 statement, about two months into Roshchyna’s disappearance.  

Russia ranks among the world’s worst jailers of journalists, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, or CPJ. In late 2023, the press freedom group documented 22 journalists jailed by Russia.  

Of those, 12 were foreign nationals, including two Americans and 10 Ukrainians.  

 Roshchyna was previously abducted by Russian forces in March 2022 while reporting in Berdiansk, in occupied southeastern Ukraine. She was released after nine days.  

In an interview last year, Roshchyna’s father said that he had asked her to be careful after that incident. But, he said, she was “unstoppable — she was not able to stop covering the news of this war on the occupied territories for her readers.” 

Munoz said that Roshchyna has long been known for being “an extremely vocal and brave journalist.”  

“She really dedicated her career to writing about some of the most dangerous topics you could write about in Ukraine,” Munoz said. 

She recalled how when the IWMF invited Roshchyna to the United States to accept the courage award in person, Roshchyna declined, saying she needed to keep reporting.  

“That is who Victoria is,” Munoz said.

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Netflix series puts Pakistani red-light district in spotlight

A new Netflix series has turned attention to a historic red-light district in Pakistan. Set in Lahore, “Heeramandi: The Diamond Bazaar” is one of the most popular non-English series on the streaming platform. But as VOA’s Pakistan bureau chief Sarah Zaman reports, not everyone is happy with the attention. Videographer: Wajid Asad; video editor: Malik Waqar Ahmed.

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Sumy region in Ukraine extensively shelled since start of 2024 

The city of Sumy, Ukraine, is just 32 kilometers from the Russian border. Sumy and the region have been shelled more times in the first five months of 2024 than during all of last year, yet some villages on the Russian border still stand. Olena Adamenko visited the city for this story, narrated by Anna Rice. Videographer: Oleh Demianenko; Video editor: Mykhailo Zaika

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Gunmen kill 11 in attack in Nigeria’s southeast, army says

ABUJA — Armed men killed at least six civilians and five soldiers in an attack in Nigeria’s southeastern Abia state, the military said Friday, prompting the state government to offer a $16,850 reward for information on the gunmen. 

The attack on Thursday was the latest in a string of raids in a region rife with separatist violence. 

The assailants killed five soldiers deployed as peacekeepers in the area, and the six civilians who died were caught in the crossfire, defense spokesperson Major-General Edward Buba said. 

No group claimed responsibility, but the army blamed the outlawed separatist Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) movement, which wants the surrounding region to secede from Nigeria. 

The attack was at a military checkpoint at Obikabia junction in Obingwa local government area, Buba said in a statement.  

“The military will be fierce in its response. We will bring overwhelming military pressure on the group to ensure their total defeat,” he said. 

Abia information commissioner Prince Okey Kanu urged the military to show restraint in their response. 

The military has previously been accused by rights groups of using excessive force and targeting innocent civilians when responding to similar attacks, charges it denies.  

The unrest in the southeast has put pressure on a government and military already struggling to contain attacks and kidnappings in the northwest, a 15-year-old Islamist insurgency in the northeast, and sectarian and herder-farmer clashes in central regions. 

IPOB campaigns for the secession of southeastern Nigeria, where the majority belong to the Igbo group. 

The movement’s leader — Nnamdi Kanu, a British citizen arrested in Kenya in 2021 — is now on trial in Nigeria on terrorism charges. 

More than a million people died, mostly from starvation, during a three-year civil war in the late 1960s when the region attempted to secede under the name of the Republic of Biafra.

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Pakistani Prime Minister Sharif heads to China next week

ISLAMABAD — Pakistan’s prime minister, Shehbaz Sharif, will lead a high-level delegation to China next week on an official 5-day visit, Islamabad announced Friday. 

During the visit that will begin June 4, Sharif will meet Chinese President Xi Jinping and hold delegation-level talks with Chinese Premier Li Qiang, according to the Pakistani Ministry of Foreign Affairs. 

Sharif, who will be accompanied by ministers and government officials as well as a group of Pakistani business leaders, will also meet high-ranking government officials and tycoons during the trip that will end June 8. 

“The two sides will undertake discussions to further strengthen the all-weather strategic cooperative partnership; upgrade China-Pakistan Economic Corridor; advance trade and investment; enhance cooperation in security and defense, energy, space, science and technology, education; and promote cultural cooperation and people-to-people contacts,” said foreign ministry spokesperson Mumtaz Zahra Baloch at the weekly news briefing. 

The visit, that was expected to occur in May, comes at a time when Islamabad is anxiously seeking to ramp up the multibillion-dollar China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, or CPEC, in a bid to spur its ailing economy. However, Beijing is deeply concerned about the safety of Chinese citizens working in Pakistan on the flagship project of its global Belt and Road Initiative. 

In recent weeks, Pakistan has ramped up efforts to meet Beijing’s key demand that Islamabad enhance the security of Chinese workers, and arrest and punish the perpetrators of a March suicide attack that killed five Chinese nationals and their Pakistani driver on their way to work at a hydropower project in the mountainous north. 

Although no group claimed responsibility for the attack, Pakistan has said the attacker was an Afghan citizen whose handlers were based in Afghanistan. 

A high-ranking Pakistani delegation visited Kabul Thursday to share the findings of its probe with the Afghan Taliban and demanded cooperation in arresting the perpetrators. Just days earlier, Islamabad revealed arresting 11 suspects that belonged to the banned militant outfit Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan or TTP.   

Along with enhancing security protocols for Chinese nationals, Islamabad also recently announced more than $2.5 million in compensation for the families of the slain foreign workers. 

Responding to VOA on whether Pakistan was confident it could satisfy China’s security concerns in the upcoming visit, Baloch said she disagreed with the notion that Beijing has “doubts in our approach on the issue of terrorism.” 

“There’s already a robust dialogue on terrorism that takes place between Pakistan and China. The two countries have a history of trust and confidence in each other and that makes our relation much more effective,” the spokesperson said. 

When asked if Islamabad had formally requested Beijing talk to Kabul to curb cross-border terrorism in Pakistan, Baloch refused to share details. 

“I am not in a position to share the internal deliberations and privileged diplomatic conversations between Pakistan and its iron brother China,” she said responding to VOA. 

A joint statement after a mid-May meeting between Pakistani and Chinese foreign ministers in Beijing called for international efforts to help Afghanistan “pursue good-neighborliness and firmly combat terrorism, including not allowing its territory to be used for terrorist acts.” 

Despite United Nations’ reports and research by Washington-based research groups indicating otherwise, the Afghan Taliban deny the presence of terror groups on their soil. 

Commenting on the Pakistani prime minister’s upcoming visit, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning told media Friday that Chinese and Pakistani leaders will “jointly draw up a blueprint for the growth of bilateral relations.” 

“China stands ready to work with Pakistan through this visit to make greater progress in our all-weather strategic cooperative partnership and take new steps in the building of an even closer China-Pakistan community with a shared future in the new era,” she added. 

Earlier in the week, Mao expressed support for Pakistan’s efforts to investigate the March attack while assuring cooperation in enhancing security for its workers there.

“China supports Pakistan in continuing to get to the full bottom of what happened and hunting down and bringing to justice all the perpetrators,” Mao said. “China will continue to work with Pakistan to strengthen security cooperation and ensure the safety and security of Chinese personnel, projects, and institutions in Pakistan.” 

At least 17 Chinese nationals have been killed in targeted attacks in Pakistan in recent years, dealing a blow to CPEC.

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Return to old national anthem sparks debate in Nigeria

Abuja, Nigeria — Nigerian President Bola Tinubu responded to criticism Thursday over a law he signed this week that changed the country’s national anthem back to the old song adopted when Nigeria achieved independence in 1960.

Critics say the president’s priorities are mixed up and he is being insensitive to the plight of people dealing with inflation and insecurity.

Human rights activist Deji Adeyanju said, “His government is not serious. They do not understand the times that we’re facing. Our greatest challenge now [is] economic issues. He has one of the worst economic teams. That should’ve been the primary responsibility and concern of the government, but instead they’re spending precious time talking about the old national anthem. How does that solve inflation problems?”

The old — and now current — national anthem, “Nigeria, We Hail Thee,” was written in 1960 by British expatriate Lillian Jean Williams and adopted as Nigeria’s anthem when the country won independence that year.

It was replaced in 1978 by “Arise O Compatriots,” which was written by a group of Nigerians in the aftermath of a brutal civil war.

The bill to restore the old anthem was introduced in parliament and passed within one week — exceptionally fast-paced for Nigeria, where most bills take several months to be considered.

Tinubu, in Abuja’s presidential village, said the old anthem represented the beauty of Nigeria’s diversity. He also teased critics who object to the old anthem being written by a British expatriate, saying it was Britain who named the country Nigeria, yet the country’s identity remains.

Nassarawa state resident Oliver Ugwu said reintroducing the old national anthem without public consultation was a questionable decision.

“A greater percentage of the masses are saying there’s no need of going back,” he said. “We have already gotten our independence, so [what] we want now is to move forward for more development.”

Another resident, Lukeman Ademola, said the national anthem law is a diversion from the country’s struggling economy.

“What do we need national anthem for; what is the national anthem doing in our lives; how does it even help the masses?” Ademola said. “Look at people suffering; the prices of commodities, the prices of goods and services are just going higher. They’re using fuel as a means of taking these things higher, and even if the fuel comes down, the prices still remain like that. How is this going to help us?”

Tinubu has faced a turbulent first year in office marked by widespread criticism and protests against his economic reforms, most prominently his scrapping of fuel subsidies that had kept prices more affordable for Nigerians.

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Biden allows Ukraine to hit Russia with American weapons near Kharkiv

WASHINGTON — In a shift from his previous position, U.S. President Joe Biden has allowed Ukraine to use American-provided weapons to counter Russian attacks in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, located just 30 kilometers (18 miles) from the border with Russia.

Speaking from Prague on Friday, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken confirmed the change in policy. “Over the past few weeks, Ukraine came to us and asked the authorization to use weapons that we’re providing to defend against this aggression, including against Russian forces that are massing on the Russian side of the border and then attacking into Ukraine,” he said.

Blinken left open the possibility of the policy being applied to other regions of the conflict. “Going forward, we’ll continue to do what we’ve been doing, which is, as necessary, adapt and adjust, he said.

U.S. policy prohibiting the use of long-range missiles known as ATACMS, or Army Tactical Missile System, that could hit targets deep inside Russia has not changed.

“This applies to counter-fire capabilities that are deployed just across the border. It does not apply to ATACMS or long-range strikes,” said Michael Carpenter, senior director for Europe at the White House National Security Council.

“This is meant to enable Ukrainians to defend themselves against what would otherwise be a Russian sanctuary across the border,” Carpenter said in a Friday interview with VOA.

Fearing escalation, Biden had been reluctant to authorize the use of weapons to hit targets inside Russia despite pressure from Ukraine and European allies. However, Moscow’s advances on Kharkiv in recent weeks may have persuaded him.

The White House’s decision “does the minimum to help Ukraine with a difficult situation in the northeast,” removing “a major burden on Ukraine’s efforts to defend civilians in Kharkiv and to stop the Russian offensive,” said John Herbst, senior director of the Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Center and former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine. At the same time, it “makes public a range of restrictions that seem designed to temper Moscow’s reaction.”

“This half step is certainly better than none,” Herbst said, but it “does not send the necessary message of American resolve to the Kremlin.”

Russian assets

Biden is hosting Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo at the White House on Friday, following formal adoption of a plan by the European Union earlier this month to use profits from Russian central bank assets frozen in the EU for Ukraine’s defense.

To punish Moscow over its 2022 invasion of Ukraine, G7 economies, including the United States and the EU, have immobilized vast sums of Russian central bank assets. U.S. and European officials have been debating on how to unlock these funds to help Kyiv.

Biden signed legislation in April allowing Washington to seize the roughly $5 billion in Russian assets located in the United States. However, most of the approximately $280 billion Russian assets are in Europe, including $225 billion held by EU countries, the majority of which are frozen in Belgium.

Last week G7 finance ministers said they will back the EU’s plan. Biden and other G7 leaders are set to formally give their support during their summit in Bari, Italy, this June.

Under the plan agreed to by the EU, interest and other investment returns accruing on these assets could total more than $3 billion each year and will be used by Western allies to pay themselves back for funds they provide to Ukraine in the near term.

Details of the plan are still unclear, said Ian Lesser, distinguished fellow and adviser to the president at the German Marshall Fund of the United States.

“What is clear is that it’s going to be collected and used in the European level,” he told VOA. The funds could be used for economic support for Ukraine but also to back the purchase arms for Ukraine and support the European defense industries, he said.

Russian officials have suggested they could retaliate by confiscating U.S. and European assets in Russia. While some countries may be concerned by the threat, others are worried about the precedent of using frozen assets under international law.

“If this goes ahead, others who may be exposed to historic grievances of all kinds may find that they are having their assets ceased as reparations,” Lesser said.

The plan is projected to yield as much as $50 billion for Ukraine in the near future. However, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said the ultimate goal is to seize Russian assets, not just the interest. “With all our gratitude for this decision today, the amounts are not commensurate [with the amount of frozen assets],” he told reporters.

De Croo’s visit to Washington came days after his meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Belgium. The leaders signed a security agreement which includes the delivery of 30 U.S.-made F-16 fighter jets, another move to bolster Kyiv’s defense capabilities against Moscow.

“These F-16 jets will be provided to Ukraine as soon as possible. Our aim is to be able to provide first aircraft before the end of this year, 2024,” De Croo said at a press conference with Zelenskyy earlier this week.

However, he underscored those jets cannot be flown in Russian territory.

De Croo is also expected to urge Biden to exert more pressure on Israel to change its war conduct and allow more humanitarian aid into Gaza.

After Spain, Ireland and Norway said they would recognize a Palestinian state earlier this week, several parties pushed the Belgian Federal Government to do the same but failed to reach an agreement.

Iuliia Iarmolenko contributed to this report.

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Pakistan launches communication satellite with Chinese assistance

Washington — Pakistan’s space agency on Thursday launched its second satellite in a month from a launch site in China’s northwest Sichuan province.

According to Pakistan’s Space & Upper Atmosphere Research Commission (SUPARCO), PakSAT-MM1 is a high-power multimission satellite designed to provide a range of communication services.

“Based on advanced communication technologies, PakSAT-MM1 will play a pivotal role in the socio-economic uplift of the country,” SUPARCO said on its website, adding that the satellite is “the hallmark of technological cooperation between” China and Pakistan.

SUPARCO added, “It will prove to be a stepping stone in the transformation of the country into digital Pakistan.”

Chinese state news agency Xinhua said Thursday that the country successfully launched Pakistan’s multimission communications satellite.

“At 20:12 on May 30, my country [China] successfully launched Pakistan’s multi-mission communication satellite into space using the Long March 3B carrier rocket at the Xichang Satellite Launch Center,” Xinhua said. “The satellite smoothly entered its predetermined orbit, marking a complete success of the launch mission.”

According to Xinhua, the launch marks the 524th flight of the Long March series of carrier rockets.

Pakistani Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif congratulated the nation on the launch of the satellite, according to a tweet by the Government of Pakistan.

“The satellite will play a key role in improving the communication system, enhancing e-commerce, economic activities, and e-governance,” Sharif said.

According to PTV, Pakistan’s state broadcaster, the satellite will provide top-tier internet services nationwide, enhancing TV broadcasts, cellular connectivity and broadband. Its services are set to launch in August.

Prior space collaboration

Beijing-Islamabad space cooperation dates to 1990 when a communication satellite developed by Pakistan was launched into space aboard a Chinese Long March 2E rocket.

This collaboration has since evolved, culminating in the recent launch of Pakistan’s first lunar satellite, ICUBE-Qamar (ICUBE-Q), on May 3, aboard China’s Long March 5 rocket from the Wenchang Space Launch Center in Hainan province.

The ICUBE-Q satellite, a joint project between Pakistan’s Institute of Space Technology, SUPARCO, and Shanghai Jiao Tong University, captured its first image of the moon on May 8, according to Science and Technology Commission of Shanghai.

Ge Ping, deputy director of the China National Space Administration’s Lunar Exploration and Space Engineering Center, said that this ongoing cooperation enhances friendship between the two countries and fosters diverse aerospace collaboration.

“I believe that this cooperation is of great significance to promoting friendly relations between the two countries and enriching people’s understanding of the moon,” Ge said. “We welcome Pakistan’s participation in China’s lunar and deep space exploration missions, and we will conduct extensive exchanges and cooperation related to space technology.”

During the first satellite launch this month, Pakistan’s Sharif remarked in an official statement that the friendship between Pakistan and China has “gone beyond borders to reach space.”

He described the Pakistan-China friendship as “higher than the Himalayas, deeper than the oceans, and sweeter than honey,” emphasizing that it has now expanded to transcend the boundaries of space with this mission.

On its website, Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs says Pakistan regards China as one of its closest friends and partners, while China considers Pakistan its “Iron Brother.”

Economically, China stands as Pakistan’s largest trading partner and a significant investor, particularly in the infrastructure and energy sectors, according to Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry.

Pakistan, hosting a multibillion-dollar flagship project of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, maintains a close relationship with its neighbor China.

Pakistan shares a border with China’s northwest region of Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, where some Western parliaments and the U.S. government accuse Beijing of committing genocide and crimes against humanity against its Muslim Uyghur population. However, Beijing vehemently denies these accusations, and Pakistan supports Beijing’s policy in Xinjiang.

Notably, Pakistan delivered a statement on behalf of more than 70 countries at the U.N. General Assembly last October, expressing support for China’s actions in Xinjiang toward Uyghur Muslims.

BRI and beyond

Beijing views space cooperation as integral to its BRI, referring to these endeavors as the “Space Silk Road,” according to the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee.

China’s Space Silk Road aims to connect China’s BRI partner countries through China’s BeiDou Navigation Satellite System (BDS).

BDS serves as an alternative to the U.S. Global Positioning System (GPS), Russia’s GLONASS, and the European Galileo system. BDS offers China and its BRI partners global positioning, navigation and tracking capabilities for both civilian and military uses.

In 2018, Pakistan ended reliance on the GPS system and fully transitioned to China’s BDS, which covers the entire country.

According to the U.S. Institute of Peace in Washington, China has become Pakistan’s foremost arms supplier in value terms over the past decade, with Pakistan receiving nearly 40% of Beijing’s arms exports.

Additionally, China has supported Pakistan’s nuclear weaponization efforts, aiding in bomb designs and explosive component development, and enhancing nuclear delivery capabilities by developing and transferring solid-propellant missiles.

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Ukraine missiles hit oil terminal in Russia’s Krasnodar region, military says

KYIV — Missiles fired by the Ukrainian navy struck an oil terminal at the Russian port of Kavkaz in the Krasnodar region on Friday, the Ukrainian military said via the Telegram messaging app.

The military reported explosions at the site as it worked to verify the damage from the attack carried out with Ukrainian-made Neptune missiles.

Ukrainian drones also struck another oil depot in the Krasnodar region, the statement said.

“Russia’s ‘modern’ and ‘effective’ air defense system once again proved powerless against our missiles and unmanned systems and failed to protect important facilities used for logistics and supply of the Russian army,” the Ukrainian military said.

The Russian defense ministry said on Telegram that its air defense systems destroyed five missiles and 29 drones targeting Krasnodar.

Falling drone debris sparked a fire at an oil depot in the Temryuk district, damaging several tanks filled with fuel and injuring two people, according to local Russian officials.

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UN refugee chief: 114 million have fled homes because nations fail to tackle causes of conflict

UNITED NATIONS — The number of people fleeing their homes because of war, violence and persecution has reached 114 million and is climbing because nations have failed to tackle the causes and combatants are refusing to comply with international law, the U.N. refugee chief said Thursday.

In a hard-hitting speech, Filippo Grandi criticized the U.N. Security Council, which is charged with maintaining international peace and security, for failing to use its voice to try to resolve conflicts from Gaza, Ukraine and Sudan to Congo, Myanmar and many other places.

He also accused unnamed countries of making “short-sighted foreign policy decisions, often founded on double standards, with lip service paid to compliance with the law, but little muscle flexed from the council to actually uphold it and — with it — peace and security.”

Grandi said non-compliance with international humanitarian law means that “parties to conflicts — increasingly everywhere, almost all of them — have stopped respecting the laws of war,” though some pretend to do so.

The result is more civilian deaths, sexual violence is used as a weapons of war, hospitals, schools and other civilian infrastructure are attacked and destroyed, and humanitarian workers become targets, he said.

Calling himself a frustrated humanitarian and looking directly at the 15 council members, Grandi said that instead of using its voice, “the council’s cacophony has meant that you have instead continued to preside over a broader cacophony of chaos around the world.”

The high commissioner for refugees told the council it’s too late for the tens of thousands who have been killed in Gaza, Ukraine, Sudan and other conflicts.

“But it is not too late to put your focus and energy on the crises and conflicts that remain unresolved, so that they are not allowed to fester and explode again,” Grandi said. “It is not too late to step up help for the millions who have been forcibly displaced to return home voluntarily, in safety and with dignity.”

It’s also not too late to save millions of people from the scourge of war, the refugee chief said.

But the Security Council is increasingly polarized, and its five veto-wielding permanent members are at odds, with the U.S., Britain and France often strongly opposed to the views of Russia and China.

On the Gaza war, the council has not called for a cease-fire because of opposition from the United States, Israel’s closest ally. And on Ukraine, the council has been ineffective as Russia, a key party to the conflict after Moscow invaded its smaller neighbor in February 2022, would veto almost any resolution.

Grandi called what’s happened in Gaza since Hamas’ surprise attack on October 7 and the “atrocious” recent events in the southern city of Rafah after an Israeli airstrike led to a deadly fire at a camp for displaced Palestinians an example of the “brutal conduct of hostilities meant not only to destroy but also to terrify civilians,” who increasingly more often have no choice but to flee.

He said Gaza is also “a tragic reminder of what happens when conflicts (and by extension a refugee crisis) are left unattended” for decades. He also pointed to Syria where after 13 years of conflict, 5.6 million Syrian refugees remain in neighboring countries including Lebanon and Jordan which also host Palestinian refugees.

Grandi said violations of international law, including forcing people to flee, are having a devastating effect on people around the world.

For example, in Myanmar, more than 1.5 million people have been displaced by fighting since October, bringing the total to over 3 million, “with many trying to seek refuge in neighboring countries,” he said.

In Ukraine, international humanitarian law is violated every day with Russian attacks on the country’s power networks, houses and other civilian infrastructure, he said.

And in Congo, Grandi said, “violence between men with guns is so common that no other place on Earth is as dangerous for women and children than the east of that country.”

“But how can members of the United Nations, how can ‘we the peoples’ pay so little attention and have so much inaction in a place where sex with a child can be bought for less than a cold drink?” the refugee chief asked.

“What a shameful stain on humanity!” Grandi said.

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Ghana toddler sets world record as the youngest male artist

ACCRA, Ghana — Meet Ace-Liam Ankrah, a Ghana toddler who has set the record as the world’s youngest male artist.

His mother, Chantelle Kukua Eghan, says it all started by accident when her son, who at the time was 6 months old, discovered her acrylic paints.

Eghan, an artist and founder of Arts and Cocktails Studio, a bar that that offers painting lessons in Ghana’s capital, Accra, said she was looking for a way to keep her son busy while working on her own paintings.

“I spread out a canvas on the floor and added paint to it, and then in the process of crawling he ended up spreading all the colors on the canvas,” she said.

And that’s how his first artwork, “The Crawl,” was born, Eghan, 25, told The Associated Press.

After that and with his mother’s prodding, Ace-Liam kept on painting.

Eghan decided to apply for the record last June. In November, Guinness World Records told her that to break a previous record, her son needed to exhibit and sell paintings.

She arranged for Ace-Liam’s first exhibition at the Museum of Science and Technology in Accra in January, where nine out of 10 of his pieces listed were sold. She declined to say for how much the paintings sold.

They were on their way.

Then, Guinness World Records confirmed the record in a statement and last week declared that “at the age of 1 year 152 days, little Ace-Liam Nana Sam Ankrah from Ghana is the world’s youngest male artist.”

Guinness World Records did not immediately respond to an Associated Press query about the previous youngest male artist record holder.

The overall record for the world’s youngest artist is currently held by India’s Arushi Bhatnagar. She had her first exhibition at the age of 11 months and sold her first painting for 5,000 rupees ($60) in 2003.

These days, Ace-Liam, who will be 2 years old in July, still loves painting and eagerly accompanies his mom to her studio, where a corner has been set off just for him. He sometimes paints in just five-minute sessions, returning to the same canvas over days of weeks, Eghan says.

On a recent day, he ran excitedly around the studio, with bursts of energy typical for boys his age. But he was also very focused and concentrated for almost an hour while painting — choosing green, yellow and blue for his latest work-in-progress and rubbing the oil colors into the canvas with his tiny fingers.

Eghan says becoming a world record holder has not changed their lives. She won’t sell “The Crawl” but plans on keeping it in the family.

She added that she hopes the media attention around her boy could encourage and inspire other parents to discover and nurture their children’s talents.

“He is painting and growing and playing in the whole process,” she says.

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Some EU nations allow 16-year-olds to decide in June polls

BRUSSELS — Youth leader Rareș Voicu remembers like it was yesterday when he went to the polls five years ago for the European Union elections in his Romanian hometown of Brăila.

The problem was that he was 16 years old at the time and not eligible to cast a ballot. Once his family went into the voting booths, he knew he could not.

“I had done so much research on the parties and on the candidates, and I knew who I would have voted for,” Voicu said. “So I know firsthand the frustration, and how frustrating it can be as a young person when you’re 16, when you’re 17.”

Now 21, Voicu is leading a drive to make sure as many 16- and 17-year-olds as possible go to the June 6-9 polls in the five member states of the 27-nation bloc that allow them to vote. In the other nations, the minimum voting age still stands at 18, like it is in the United States.

The voting age is set at 16 in Austria, Belgium, Germany and Malta and 17 in Greece. In Belgium, voting is mandatory.

Nateo Carnot from Celles in southern Belgium, who is 16, won’t have to deal with the issue Voicu had, but he knows that teens like him will have to step up and overcome political apathy, even helplessness.

“Youth sees politics as something from up high — men in big ties in big cars that won’t listen. So there is a disinterest,” he said. “Whatever we do. It won’t change anything. They won’t listen,” is the reasoning of many.

Yet lowering the bar to 16, as Belgium did for these elections, shows improvement, Carnot said. “It shows politicians start to show interest in us and realize that we are mature enough to express our voice.”

Some see the lowering of the minimum voting age as a ploy to get an easy vote from unwitting teens who have barely outgrown childhood. Voicu vehemently disagrees.

“When you’re 16, when you’re 17, you often have the right to make medical decisions for your own body. You have the obligation to pay taxes if you have a job. You can enter civil partnerships or you can get married. So you have all of these duties, all of these obligations,” he said.

“What we’re asking for is for the democratic rights of young people to match their responsibilities. We think it’s only fair,” said Voicu, who also wants more countries to lower the voting age.

Their demands can be heard by the exceptionally young, too, since late teens can also run for office in many nations. The United States has a minimum age of 25 years to run for Congress, but most EU nations allow anyone 18 years or up to represent their electorate in the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, and Brussels.

Kira Marie Peter-Hansen was shocked when she found herself elected to the European Parliament on a Danish Independent Greens party ticket five years ago, at barely 20 years old. “I never expected to get elected, so I never planned for that either. And it wasn’t part of my childhood dreams.” Yet, she was thrown into EU politics at the deep end.

Working the hallowed halls of Parliament early on not only had her puzzled but EU politicians and staff too. “People thinking I’m an intern. And then checking my badge,” she said. “The first half year was super difficult and confusing.”

But she grew into it.

“So the last time I was the youth candidate. Now, I am the leading candidate while being young,” Peter-Hansen said.

If there is one thing she has learned over the past five years, it is that there are few specific youth-versus-elderly issues that need specific approaches.

“A lot of younger (and) a lot of older voters are concerned by the climate crisis, the nature crisis. So there are some places where we can meet across generations,” she said.

Many members of extreme right and populist parties expect that the youngsters will unite with the elderly in rejecting the traditional powers and parties that have ruled the EU Parliament for so long.

“They look at the future and the future looks grim,” said Tom Vandendriessche of the far-right Flemish Interest party, which is part of the Identity and Democracy Group.

“How could they have trust in these traditional parties … that have been governing us for decades and who brought us into this mess,” he said, mentioning the issues of migration and terrorism. “They are looking for answers which are different.”

Manon Aubry, a member of Parliament from the hard left France Unbowed party, pointed to different issues for the young to get riled up about, such as social exclusion, inequality and poverty. Aubry insisted the elections are the ideal moment to stand up to anyone from the Hungarian prime minister to the French president to the head of the world’s largest luxury goods company.

“It’s the only time, the only place when you, me, any youth has as much power as Viktor Orban, as Emmanuel Macron, as Bernard Arnault, one of the richest guys in the European Union,” she said.

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Lava spurts from Iceland volcano for second day

GRINDAVIK, Iceland — Lava continued to spurt from a volcano in southwestern Iceland on Thursday but the activity had calmed significantly from when it erupted a day earlier.

The eruption Wednesday was the fifth and most powerful since the volcanic system near Grindavik reawakened in December after 800 years, gushing record levels of lava as its fissure grew to 3.5 kilometers in length.

Volcanologist Dave McGarvie calculated that the amount of lava initially flowing from the crater could have buried the soccer pitch at Wembley Stadium in London under 15 meters of lava every minute.

“These jets of magma are reaching like 50 meters, into the atmosphere,” said McGarvie, an honorary researcher at Lancaster University. “That just immediately strikes me as a powerful eruption. And that was my first impression … then some numbers came out, estimating how much was coming out per minute or per second and it was, ‘Wow.'”

The activity once again threatened Grindavik, a coastal town of 3,800 people, and led to the evacuation of the popular Blue Lagoon geothermal spa, one of Iceland’s biggest tourist attractions.

Grindavik, which is about 50 kilometers southwest of Iceland’s capital, Reykjavik, has been threatened since a swarm of earthquakes in November forced an evacuation in advance of the initial December 18 eruption. A subsequent eruption consumed several buildings.

Protective barriers outside Grindavik deflected the lava Wednesday but the evacuated town remained without electricity and two of the three roads into town were inundated with lava.

“I just like the situation quite well compared to how it looked at the beginning of the eruption yesterday,” Grindavik Mayor Fannar Jónasson told national broadcaster RUV.

McGarvie said the eruption was more powerful than the four that preceded it because the largest amount of magma had accumulated in a chamber underground before breaking the earth’s surface and shooting into the sky.

The rapid and powerful start of the eruption followed by it diminishing quickly several hours later is the pattern researchers have witnessed with this volcano, McGarvie said. It’s unknown when eruptions at this volcano will end.

“It could go on for quite some considerable time,” McGarvie said. “We’re really in new territory here because eruptions like this have never been witnessed, carefully, in this part of Iceland.”

Iceland, which sits above a volcanic hot spot in the North Atlantic, sees regular eruptions. The most disruptive in recent times was the 2010 eruption of the Eyjafjallajokull volcano, which spewed huge clouds of ash into the atmosphere and led to widespread airspace closures over Europe.

None of the current cycle of eruptions have had an impact on aviation.

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