American Motorcyclist Rides Deep Into Russia-Ukraine War’s Heart of Darkness

In what he calls his humanitarian voyage, American Neale Bayly has been riding his motorcycle around Ukraine — not only to see the sights, but also to bring attention to its war against Russia, and raise funds for the children he meets along the way. Omelyan Oshchudlyak has the story. VOA footage by Yuriy Dankevych.

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Kyiv Says Russians Trying to Dislodge Its Forces in Donetsk, As Nuclear Concerns Persist

A Russian offensive is continuing toward the hub cities of Bakhmut and Avdiyivka in the eastern Donetsk region as the enemy tries to inflict “maximum losses” on Ukrainian forces, the Ukrainian Army’s General Staff said early on August 9.

It said the Russian Air Force was bombarding military facilities in the direction of Donetsk in support of artillery and other ground operations aimed at dislodging Ukrainian units from the front lines.

British intelligence warned on August 8 that Russia was using anti-personnel mines in an effort to defend and hold its defense lines in the Donbas, with resulting risks to both the military and local civilian populations.

Battlefield reports from either side in the rapidly developing conflict are difficult to confirm.

But Kyiv’s military planners said their forces had repelled reconnaissance and offensive operations in a handful of settlements around Ivano-Daryivka, Bakhmut, and Zaitsevo.

They said Russian forces had withdrawn after unsuccessful pushes around Avdiyivka and Krasnohorivka.

Kyiv said two Russian warships armed with Kalibr cruise missiles are poised for battle off Ukraine’s Black Sea coast.

Meanwhile, international concern persisted over the weekend shelling of the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant over the potential for a disaster at Europe’s largest atomic facility.

The head of the Ukrainian nuclear power company Enerhoatom has urged that Zaporizhzhya be declared a military-free zone to avoid nuclear catastrophe.

Zaporizhzhya was seized early in the five-month-old invasion but continues to be manned by Ukrainian staff.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned that “any attack to a nuclear plant is a suicidal thing” in calling on August 8 for international inspectors to be given access to Zaporizhzhya.

The Russian-installed head of the local administration was quoted by Interfax as saying on August 8 that the facility was operating “in normal mode.”

Washington and the World Bank announced more support for Ukraine on the heels of U.S. President Joe Biden’s committing this week to the single largest package of security assistance under his so-called drawdown authority with $1 billion in aid that includes long-range weapons and medical transport vehicles.

The U.S. Agency for International Development, or USAID, said on August 8 that Washington would provide $4.5 billion more in economic funding, nearly doubling the budgetary support so far since Russia’s invasion began in February.

The World Bank said it will implement the U.S. grant, which it said is aimed at urgent needs including healthcare, pensions, and social payments.

Also, Reuters cited a document in which Russia, Ukraine, Turkey, and the United Nations pledged to ensure a 10-nautical-mile buffer zone for ships exporting Ukrainian grain through the Black Sea.

The long-awaited procedures are part of intense international efforts to unblock millions of tons of grain stuck at Ukrainian ports since the invasion began.

Some information in this report came from Reuters and the Asssoiated Press.

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Ukraine ‘Optimistic’ After Arrival of First Grain Shipment

The first cargo ship to reach its final destination after departing from Ukraine under a deal between Moscow and Kyiv docked in Turkey on Monday, Kyiv said, while a consignment due in Lebanon reported delays.

Ukraine, one of the world’s largest grain exporters, was forced to halt almost all deliveries after Russia’s invasion, but Black Sea exports recently restarted under a deal brokered by the U.N. and Turkey.

The Turkish cargo ship — the Polarnet — that reached its final destination left the Ukrainian port of Chornomorsk last week carrying 12,000 metric tons of corn.

It arrived in Turkey as scheduled after being inspected by the Joint Coordination Center (JCC) established in Istanbul under the international agreement signed last month, Kyiv said.

“This first successful completion of the implementation of the ‘grain deal’ means it is possible to be optimistic about future transportation,” Infrastructure Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov was quoted as saying in a statement by the ministry.

The statement did not give the ship’s destination, but the website vesselfinder.com gave its location as the port of Derince, Turkey.

The deal brokered by Turkey and the U.N. lifted a Russian blockade of Ukraine’s ports and set terms for millions of tons of wheat and other grain to start flowing from silos and ports.

The Razoni was the first ship to leave Ukraine under the deal.

It left the port of Odesa August 1 carrying 26,000 tons of corn and was expected in Tripoli in Lebanon this weekend but has yet to reach the destination.

The Ukrainian embassy in Lebanon explained on social media that the consignment was delayed after the original buyer refused delivery, citing a five-month delay in shipment.

“The sender is therefore looking for another recipient. This may be in Lebanon or in another country,” it added in a statement on Twitter.

Eight ships have left Ukrainian ports since the agreement was signed, Kyiv said Monday, and it hoped that between three and five ships would be able to depart daily within two weeks.

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EU Lays Down ‘Final’ Text To Resurrect Iran Nuclear Deal

The European Union on Monday said it put forward a “final” text to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal as four days of indirect talks between U.S. and Iranian officials wrapped up in Vienna.

“What can be negotiated has been negotiated, and it’s now in a final text. However, behind every technical issue and every paragraph lies a political decision that needs to be taken in the capitals,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell tweeted.

“If these answers are positive, then we can sign this deal,” he added as EU, Iranian and U.S. prepared to leave Vienna.

Earlier, a senior EU official told reporters that no more changes could be made to the text, which has been under negotiation for 15 months, and said he expected a final decision from the parties within a “very, very few weeks.”

“It is a package proposal. … You cannot agree with page 20 and disagree with page 50. You have to say yes or no,” he said.

A U.S. State Department spokesperson said Washington was ready to quickly reach an agreement to revive the deal, formally called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), on the basis of the EU proposals.

Iranian officials suggested that they did not regard the EU proposals as final, saying they would convey their “additional views and considerations” to the European Union, which coordinates the talks, after consultations in Tehran.

Iran has also made demands the United States and other Western powers view as outside the scope of reviving the deal.

For example, Iran has insisted the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N. nuclear watchdog, drop its claims Iran has failed to fully explain uranium traces at undeclared sites.

Each side sought to put the onus on the other to compromise.

“They (the Iranians) repeatedly say they are prepared for a return to mutual implementation of the JCPOA. Let’s see if their actions match their words,” the U.S. spokesperson said.

Iran and six major powers struck the original accord in 2015 under which it agreed to restrict its nuclear program to make it harder to use it to develop atomic weapons — an ambition it denies — in return for relief from U.S., EU and U.N. sanctions.

In 2018, then U.S. President Donald Trump ditched the deal and reimposed harsh U.S. sanctions designed to choke off Iran’s oil exports, its major source of export income and government revenue.

In response, Tehran — which says its nuclear program is for power generation and other peaceful purposes — began about a year later to breach the agreement in several ways, including rebuilding stocks of enriched uranium.

It has also enriched uranium to 60% purity — far above the 3.67% that is permitted under the deal but below the 90% that is regarded as weapons grade.

U.S. President Joe Biden has sought to revive the agreement since he took office in January 2021 and negotiations — indirect because Iran refuses to deal directly with the United States on the issue — began in Vienna in April 2021.

Iran has also sought to obtain guarantees that no future U.S. president would renege on the deal if it were revived, as Trump did in 2018. Washington cannot provide such ironclad assurances because the deal is a political understanding rather than a legally binding treaty.

Iranian state media hinted at this issue on Monday.

“The final agreement must ensure the rights and interests of the Iranian people and guarantee the effective and stable removal of sanctions,” Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian told Borrell in a call, state media reported.

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Kosovo Targeted by Russian Disinformation, Officials Say

The Balkan country of Kosovo has recently been at the receiving end of what its leaders say is Russian disinformation. Leonat Shehu and Artan Haraqija have more from Pristina, Kosovo.

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UK Museum Agrees to Return Looted Benin Bronzes to Nigeria

A London museum agreed Sunday to return a collection of Benin Bronzes looted in the late 19th century from what is now Nigeria as cultural institutions throughout Britain come under pressure to repatriate artifacts acquired during the colonial era. 

The Horniman Museum and Gardens in southeast London said that it would transfer a collection of 72 items to the Nigerian government. The decision comes after Nigeria’s National Commission for Museums and Monuments formally asked for the artifacts to be returned earlier this year and following a consultation with community members, artists and schoolchildren in Nigeria and the U.K., the museum said. 

“The evidence is very clear that these objects were acquired through force, and external consultation supported our view that it is both moral and appropriate to return their ownership to Nigeria,” Eve Salomon, chair of the museum’s board of trustees, said in a statement. “The Horniman is pleased to be able to take this step, and we look forward to working with the NCMM to secure longer term care for these precious artifacts.” 

The Horniman’s collection is a small part of the 3,000 to 5,000 artifacts taken from the Kingdom of Benin in 1897 when British soldiers attacked and occupied Benin City as Britain expanded its political and commercial influence in West Africa. The British Museum alone holds more than 900 objects from Benin, and National Museums Scotland has another 74. Others were distributed to museums around the world. 

The artifacts include plaques, animal and human figures, and items of royal regalia made from brass and bronze by artists working for the royal court of Benin. The general term Benin Bronzes is sometimes applied to items made from ivory, coral, wood and other materials as well as the metal sculptures. 

Increasing demand for returns

Countries including Nigeria, Egypt and Greece, as well indigenous peoples from North America to Australia, are increasingly demanding the return of artifacts and human remains amid a global reassessment of colonialism and the exploitation of local populations. 

Nigeria and Germany recently signed a deal for the return of hundreds of Benin Bronzes. That followed French President Emmanuel Macron’s decision last year to sign over 26 pieces known as the Abomey Treasures, priceless artworks of the 19th century Dahomey kingdom in present-day Benin, a small country that sits just west of Nigeria. 

But British institutions have been slower to respond. 

Nigeria’s Federal Ministry of Information and Culture formally asked the British Museum to return its Benin Bronzes in October of last year. 

The museum said Sunday that it is working with a number of partners in Nigeria and it is committed to a “thorough and open investigation” of the history of the Benin artifacts and the looting of Benin City. 

“The museum is committed to active engagement with Nigerian institutions concerning the Benin Bronzes, including pursuing and supporting new initiatives developed in collaboration with Nigerian partners and colleagues,” the British Museum says on its website. 

BLM inspires museum to ‘reset’

The Horniman Museum also traces its roots to the Age of Empire. 

The museum opened in 1890, when tea merchant Frederick Horniman opened his collection of artifacts from around the world for public viewing. 

Amid the Black Lives Matter movement, the museum embarked on a “reset agenda,” that sought to “address long-standing issues of racism and discrimination within our history and collections, and a determination to set ourselves on a more sustainable course for the future.” 

The museum’s website acknowledges that Frederick Horniman’s involvement in the Chinese tea trade meant he benefitted from low prices due to Britain’s sale of opium in China and the use of poorly compensated and sometimes forced labor. 

The Horniman also recognizes that it holds items “obtained through colonial violence.” 

These include the Horniman’s collection of Benin Bronzes, comprising 12 brass plaques, as well as a brass cockerel altar piece, ivory and brass ceremonial objects, brass bells and a key to the king’s palace. The bronzes are currently displayed along with information acknowledging their forced removal from Benin City and their contested status. 

“We recognize that we are at the beginning of a journey to be more inclusive in our stories and our practices, and there is much more we need to do,” the museum says on its website. “This includes reviewing the future of collections that were taken by force or in unequal transactions.” 

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