Category: Europe

Конгрес США погодився продати Польщі керовані протитанкові ракети

Ракетами будуть оснащені польські вертольоти підтримки AW149, а також Apache

МОК відреагував на рішення України заборонити спортсменам змагатися в турнірах із росіянами

«Рішення лише нашкодить українській спільноті спортсменів і ніяк не вплине на війну, яку світ хоче зупинити і яку МОК так різко засуджує»

В Еквадорі стався зсув ґрунту, понад 20 людей загинуло

«Застосовуються протоколи безпеки для стабілізації грунту, щоб рятувальники могли продовжувати пошуково-рятувальні роботи в постраждалому районі, зокрема використання спеціальної техніки»

ЗМІ: Ердоган затвердив ратифікацію членства Фінляндії в НАТО

У президента Ердогана було 15 днів, щоб підтвердити рішення парламенту, уточнили журналісти

Pope Francis Leaves Hospital; ‘Still Alive,’ He Quips

A chipper-sounding Pope Francis was discharged Saturday from the Rome hospital where he was treated for bronchitis, quipping to journalists before being driven away that he’s “still alive.”

Francis, 86, was hospitalized at Gemelli Polyclinic on Wednesday following his weekly public audience in St. Peter’s Square after reportedly experiencing breathing difficulties. The pontiff received antibiotics administered intravenously during his stay, the Vatican said.

In a sign of his improved health, the Vatican released details of Francis’ Holy Week schedule. It said he would preside at this weekend’s Palm Sunday Mass and at Easter Mass on April 9, both held in St. Peter’s Square and expected to draw tens of thousands of faithful. A Vatican cardinal will be at the altar to celebrate both Masses, a recent practice due to the pontiff having a troublesome knee issue.

But Francis is scheduled to celebrate Holy Thursday Mass, which this year will be held in a juvenile prison in Rome. Still unclear was whether he would attend the late-night, torch-lit Way of the Cross procession at Rome’s Colosseum to mark Good Friday.

Before departing Gemelli Polyclinic late Saturday morning, Francis comforted a Rome couple whose 5-year-old daughter died Friday night at the Catholic hospital. Outside, Serena Subania, mother of Angelica, sobbed as she pressed her head into the chest of the pope, who held her close and whispered words of comfort.

Francis seemed eager to linger with well-wishers. When a boy showed him his arm cast, the pope made a gesture as if to ask, “Do you have a pen?” Three papal aides whipped out theirs. Francis took one of the pens and added his signature to the child’s already well-autographed cast.

Asked how he felt now, Francis joked, “Still alive, you know.” He gave a thumbs-up sign.

Francis exited the hospital from a side entrance, but his car stopped in front of the main entrance, where a gaggle of journalists waited. He opened the car door himself and got out from the front passenger seat. Francis had a cane ready to lean on.

After chatting, he got back into the white Fiat 500 car that drove him away from Gemelli Polyclinic. But instead of heading straight home, his motorcade sped right past Vatican City and went to St. Mary Major Basilica, a Rome landmark that is one of his favorites.

There, startled tourists rushed to snap photos of him as he sat in a wheelchair, which he has used often to navigate longer distances in recent years due to a chronic knee problem. When he emerged after praying, residents and tourists in the street called out repeatedly, “Long live the pope!” and clapped.

Francis spent 10 days at the same hospital in July 2021 following intestinal surgery for a bowel narrowing, After his release back then, he also stopped to offer prayers of thanksgiving at St. Mary Major Basilica, which is home to an icon depicting the Virgin Mary. He also visits the church upon returning from trips abroad.

Before leaving the hospital Saturday, Francis, while chatting with journalists, praised medical workers, saying they “show great tenderness.”

“We sick are capricious. I much admire the people who work in hospitals,” he said. Francis also said he read journalists’ accounts of his illness, including in a Rome daily newspaper, and pronounced them well done.

Francis stopped to talk to reporters again before he was driven into the Vatican through a gate of the tiny walled city-state, where he lives at a Holy See hotel. Speaking through an open car window, he said: “Happy Easter to all, and pray for me.”

Then, indicating he was eager to resume his routine, he said, “Forward, thanks.”

In response to a shouted question from a reporter, who asked if the pope would visit Hungary at the end of April as scheduled, Francis answered, “Yes.”

On yet another stop, he got out of his car to distribute chocolate Easter eggs to the police officers who drove the motorcycles at the head of his motorcade.

Given his strained voice, it was unclear if the pope would read the homily at the Palm Sunday service or deliver the usually lengthy “Urbi et Orbi” [Latin for to the city and to the world] address, a review of the globe’s conflicts, at the end of Easter Mass.

He told reporters that after Palm Sunday Mass, he would keep his weekly appointment to greet and bless the public in St. Peter’s Square.

As a young man in his native Argentina, Francis had part of a lung removed, leaving him particularly vulnerable to any respiratory illness.

Україна закупить у Польщі 100 БТР «Росомаха» – Моравецький

«Росомахи» – це бронетранспортери найвищого класу»

«Я ще живий» – папу Франциска виписали з лікарні

86-річний понтифік був шпиталізований три дні тому після того, як він поскаржився на труднощі з диханням

ISW прокоментував схвалення Путіним концепції зовнішньої політики перед головуванням РФ у Радбезі ООН

«Новий документ, ймовірно, має на меті підтримати спроби Кремля активізувати пропозиції країнам щодо формування антизахідного блоку»

IMF Approves $15.6 Billion Ukraine Loan Package

The International Monetary Fund has approved a $15.6 billion support package for Ukraine to assist with the conflict-hit country’s economic recovery, the fund said in a statement Friday.

Russia’s invasion has devastated Ukraine’s economy, causing activity to contract by about 30% last year, destroying much of its capital stock and spreading poverty, according to the IMF.

The outbreak of war has rippled through the global economy, fueling global inflation through rising wheat and oil prices.

The invasion has also highlighted Europe’s dependence on Russian natural gas for its energy security. Many countries were forced to seek out alternative sources of energy after the war began.

The two-step program will look to stabilize the country’s economic situation while the war continues, before turning to “more ambitious structural reforms” after the end of hostilities, IMF deputy managing director Gita Gopinath said in a statement.

The 48-month Extended Fund Facility approved by the fund’s board is worth roughly $15.6 billion.

It forms the IMF’s portion of a $115 billion overall support package comprised of debt relief, grants and loans by multilateral and bilateral institutions, the IMF’s Ukraine mission chief Gavin Gray told reporters on Friday.

“The goal of Ukraine’s new IMF-supported program is to provide an anchor for economic policies — policies that will sustain macroeconomic financial stability and support … economic recovery,” he said.

Of the total amount approved by the IMF, $2.7 billion is being made available to Ukraine immediately, with the rest of the funds due to be released over the next four years.

The program also includes additional guarantees from some IMF members in the event that active combat continues beyond its current estimate of mid-2024.

If the conflict were to extend into 2025, it would raise Ukraine’s financial needs from $115 billion to about $140 billion, Gray said.

“This program has been designed in such a way that it would work even if economic circumstances are considerably worse than … the current baseline,” he said.

UN Food Chief: Billions Needed to Avert Unrest, Starvation

Without billions of dollars more to feed millions of hungry people, the world will see mass migration, destabilized countries, and starving children and adults in the next 12-18 months, the head of the Nobel prize-winning U.N. World Food Program warned Friday.

David Beasley praised increased funding from the United States and Germany last year, and urged China, Gulf nations, billionaires and other countries “to step up big time.”

In an interview before he hands the reins of the world’s largest humanitarian organization to U.S. ambassador Cindy McCain next week, the former South Carolina governor said he’s “extremely worried” that WFP won’t raise about $23 billion it needs this year to help an estimated 350 million people in 49 countries who desperately need food.

“Right at this stage, I’ll be surprised if we get 40% of it, quite frankly,” he said.

WFP was in a similar crisis last year, he said, but fortunately he was able to convince the United States to increase its funding from about $3.5 billion to $7.4 billion and Germany to raise its contribution from $350 million a few years ago to $1.7 billion, but he doesn’t think they’ll do it again this year.

Other countries need to step up now, he said, starting with China, the world’s second-largest economy which gave WFP just $11 million last year.

Beasley applauded China for its success in substantially reducing hunger and poverty at home, but said it gave less than one cent per person last year compared to the United States, the world’s leading economy, which gave about $22 per person.

China needs “to engage in the multilateral world” and be willing to provide help that is critical, he said. “They have a moral obligation to do so.”

Beasley said they’ve done “an incredible job of feeding their people,” and “now we need their help in other parts of the world” on how they did it, particularly in poorer countries including in Africa.

With high oil prices Gulf countries can also do more, especially Muslim nations that have relations with countries in east Africa, the Sahara and elsewhere in the Middle East, he said, expressing hope they will increase contributions.

Beasley said the wealthiest billionaires made unprecedented profits during the COVID-19 pandemic, and “it’s not too much to ask some of the multibillionaires to step up and help us in the short-term crisis,” even though charity isn’t a long-term solution to the food crisis.

In the long-term, he said what he’d really like to see is billionaires using their experience and success to engage “in the world’s greatest need – and that is food on the planet to feed 8 billion people.”

“The world has to understand that the next 12 to 18 months is critical, and if we back off the funding, you will have mass migration, and you will have destabilization nations and that will all be on top of starvation among children and people around the world,” he warned.

Beasley said WFP was just forced to cut rations by 50% to 4 million people in Afghanistan, and “these are people who are knocking on famine’s door now.”

“We don’t have enough money just to reach the most vulnerable people now,” he said. “So we are in a crisis over the cliff stage right now, where we literally could have hell on earth if we’re not very careful.”

Beasley said he’s been telling leaders in the West and Europe that while they’re focusing everything on Ukraine and Russia, “you better well not forget about what’s south and southeast of you because I can assure you it is coming your way if you don’t pay attention and get on top of it.”

With $400 trillion worth of wealth on the planet, he said, there’s no reason for any child to die of starvation.

The WFP executive director said leaders have to prioritize the humanitarian needs that are going to have the greatest impact on stability in societies around the world.

He singled out several priority places — Africa’s Sahel region as well as the east including Somalia, northern Kenya, South Sudan and Ethiopia; Syria which is having an impact on Jordan and Lebanon; and Central and South America where the number of people migrating to the United States is now five times what it was a year-and-a-half ago.

Італія тимчасово блокує ChatGPT через проблеми конфіденційності

Компанія-розробник ChatGPT вважає, що її методи відповідають європейським законам про конфіденційність

США не будуть надавати Україні ATACMS, але розглядають інші варіанти – Міллі

Марк Міллі зауважив, що є БПЛА, які можуть досягти діапазону ATACMS – до 300 кілометрів

UN Weekly Roundup: March 25-31, 2023

Editor’s note: Here is a fast take on what the international community has been up to this past week, as seen from the United Nations perch.

Vanuatu leads action on climate justice

The U.N. General Assembly adopted a landmark resolution Wednesday that will ask the International Court of Justice to issue an advisory opinion on the obligations of states under international law to protect the rights of present and future generations from the impact of climate change. The Pacific island nation of Vanuatu spearheaded the drafting and negotiations of the resolution, with a core group of 18 countries representing most corners of the world.

What Are State’s Obligations to Protect Citizens from Climate Change? World Court to Weigh In

General Assembly closer to creating new entity on missing Syrians

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged the international community Tuesday to create an international body that would assist families of the estimated 100,000 missing persons in Syria to find out the fate and whereabouts of their loved ones.

UN Chief Urges Creation of Entity to Clarify Fate of 100,000 Missing Syrians

Disarmament chief: risk of nuclear weapon use now highest since Cold War

The United Nations disarmament chief warned Friday that the risk of a nuclear weapon being used is higher now than at any time since the Cold War. Izumi Nakamitsu told the Security Council that the war in Ukraine “represents the most acute example of that risk.”

Russia takes over Security Council’s April presidency

On April 1, in what some critics say sounds more like an April Fool’s joke than reality, Russia will take over the rotating presidency of the United Nations Security Council for the month — and no one can prevent it.

Cyclone raises risk of disease at Malawi sites for displaced people

The U.N. humanitarian agency says Malawi needs immediate help to deal with diseases spreading in displacement camps for Cyclone Freddy survivors. The Malawi health minister told reporters Tuesday that the government is beefing up its medical staff, but a local newspaper says the country needs more money to adequately deal with health care needs.

UN Concerned About Disease in Malawi’s Displacement Camps

Talking to Sudanese men about female genital mutilation

The World Health Organization says about 87% of Sudanese females between 15 and 49 have undergone female genital mutilation, one of the highest rates in the world. A project by the U.N. children’s agency, UNICEF, is targeting sports clubs to engage men and boys in the fight against the practice. Watch this report from Henry Wilkins in Khartoum, Sudan:

UNICEF Talking to Sudanese Men’s Clubs About Female Genital Mutilation

In brief

— A resolution put forward Monday by Russia at the United Nations calling for an international investigation into the apparent sabotage last year on the Nord Stream gas pipelines failed to win Security Council support. Russia’s draft received only three votes in favor — from itself, China and Brazil. The other 12 Security Council members abstained. Several council members said an additional investigation would not be beneficial right now and urged waiting for the results of the national ones. Others suggested that a deadline be imposed for the national investigations to conclude, saying they should not be open-ended.

— International Atomic Energy Agency chief Rafael Mariano Grossi made a mission to Ukraine this week. He has been trying for months to negotiate a weapons-free zone around the Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant, which has come under repeated shelling and blackouts during the war and is currently occupied by Russian troops. A team of IAEA experts is also based at the facility. Grossi met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in the city of Zaporizhzhya on Monday and indicated he may soon go to Russia for further talks. He warned that a nuclear accident with radiological consequences “will spare no one.”

— Thursday was the first ever International Day of Zero Waste. U.N. Secretary-General Guterres warned during a General Assembly meeting on the issue that the planet is turning into a “garbage dump” and by 2050 municipal solid waste will double to 4 billion tons a year. He called for more sustainable consumption and production patterns with the goal of a zero-waste future. Guterres also announced that he is establishing an Advisory Board of Eminent Persons on Zero Waste to be chaired by the first lady of Turkey, Emine Erdoğan.

Did you know?

The U.N. flag was designed in 1945 when the organization was founded. It is a map of the world resting inside two olive branches. The blue background was chosen to represent peace, and this shade of blue has become known as “U.N. blue.” American architect Oliver Lincoln Lundquist led the design team that created it.

Italy Temporarily Blocks ChatGPT Over Privacy Concerns

Italy is temporarily blocking the artificial intelligence software ChatGPT in the wake of a data breach as it investigates a possible violation of stringent European Union data protection rules, the government’s privacy watchdog said Friday.

The Italian Data Protection Authority said it was taking provisional action “until ChatGPT respects privacy,” including temporarily limiting the company from processing Italian users’ data.

U.S.-based OpenAI, which developed the chatbot, said late Friday night it has disabled ChatGPT for Italian users at the government’s request. The company said it believes its practices comply with European privacy laws and hopes to make ChatGPT available again soon.

While some public schools and universities around the world have blocked ChatGPT from their local networks over student plagiarism concerns, Italy’s action is “the first nation-scale restriction of a mainstream AI platform by a democracy,” said Alp Toker, director of the advocacy group NetBlocks, which monitors internet access worldwide.

The restriction affects the web version of ChatGPT, popularly used as a writing assistant, but is unlikely to affect software applications from companies that already have licenses with OpenAI to use the same technology driving the chatbot, such as Microsoft’s Bing search engine.

The AI systems that power such chatbots, known as large language models, are able to mimic human writing styles based on the huge trove of digital books and online writings they have ingested.

The Italian watchdog said OpenAI must report within 20 days what measures it has taken to ensure the privacy of users’ data or face a fine of up to either 20 million euros (nearly $22 million) or 4% of annual global revenue.

The agency’s statement cites the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation and pointed to a recent data breach involving ChatGPT “users’ conversations” and information about subscriber payments.

OpenAI earlier announced that it had to take ChatGPT offline on March 20 to fix a bug that allowed some people to see the titles, or subject lines, of other users’ chat history.

“Our investigation has also found that 1.2% of ChatGPT Plus users might have had personal data revealed to another user,” the company had said. “We believe the number of users whose data was actually revealed to someone else is extremely low and we have contacted those who might be impacted.”

Italy’s privacy watchdog, known as the Garante, also questioned whether OpenAI had legal justification for its “massive collection and processing of personal data” used to train the platform’s algorithms. And it said ChatGPT can sometimes generate — and store — false information about individuals.

Finally, it noted there’s no system to verify users’ ages, exposing children to responses “absolutely inappropriate to their age and awareness.”

OpenAI said in response that it works “to reduce personal data in training our AI systems like ChatGPT because we want our AI to learn about the world, not about private individuals.”

“We also believe that AI regulation is necessary — so we look forward to working closely with the Garante and educating them on how our systems are built and used,” the company said.

The Italian watchdog’s move comes as concerns grow about the artificial intelligence boom. A group of scientists and tech industry leaders published a letter Wednesday calling for companies such as OpenAI to pause the development of more powerful AI models until the fall to give time for society to weigh the risks.

The president of Italy’s privacy watchdog agency told Italian state TV Friday evening he was one of those who signed the appeal. Pasquale Stanzione said he did so because “it’s not clear what aims are being pursued” ultimately by those developing AI.

Blinken Heads to NATO Meeting as Finland Moves Closer to Joining

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is heading to Brussels on Monday for a meeting of NATO foreign ministers expected to focus on sustaining support for Ukraine. VOA’s Senior Diplomatic Correspondent Cindy Saine reports.

‘Let Him Go,’ Biden Says as Russia Orders American Journalist Held Until May  

President Joe Biden on Friday urged Russia to release American journalist Evan Gershkovich from custody.

Gershkovich, a reporter for The Wall Street Journal, was detained in Yekaterinburg, a city about 800 miles from the Russian capital, on accusations of espionage. His media outlet has denied those allegations.

A Moscow court on Friday ordered Gershkovich to be held in pre-trial detention until May 29.

When Biden was asked by reporters if he had a message for Russia on Gershkovich’s case, the president responded, “Let him go.”

Vice President Kamala Harris also spoke about the case during her visit to Zambia, telling reporters the administration was “deeply concerned.”

“We will not tolerate – and condemn, in fact – repression of journalists,” Harris said.

The Journal’s editorial board said Thursday in an op-ed piece that neither the paper nor U.S. government officials had been allowed contact with Gershkovich since his arrest.

In the column, the Journal said that FSB agents “snatched” the 31-year-old while he was on assignment in Yekaterinburg.

The media outlet questioned whether the arrest was made in response to the U.S. Justice Department’s filing of charges in March against Sergey Vladimirovich Cherkasov, a Russian accused of operating in the U.S. as an illegal agent for Kremlin intelligence services.

A criminal complaint said Cherkasov pretended to be a student from Brazil to fraudulently gain a visa to enter the U.S.

VOA emailed the Russian Embassy in Washington for comment but as of the publication of this story had not received a response.

The U.S. said Thursday that it had been in direct contact with the Russian government about Gershkovich’s arrest.

The Journal on Thursday said it thought the U.S. should respond to Gershkovich’s arrest by expelling the Russian ambassador and any Russian journalists working in the U.S.

Biden told reporters on Friday, “That’s not the plan right now.”

In 2020, then-U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the U.S. would limit the number of visas open to staff at Chinese media outlets. In announcing the move, he cited the increased surveillance and harassment of American reporters in China.

The statement came after Beijing expelled three Journal correspondents.

Media rights groups at the time, including the Committee to Protect Journalists, warned against a “tit for tat” response and called for the U.S. to not adopt “authoritarian tactics.”

Increased tensions

Andrey Kolesnikov, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told VOA that Gershkovich’s arrest reflected a “general deterioration of relations with the West.”

“This is a signal both to [international] reporters who are still working in Russia with three-month accreditations from the Foreign Ministry and to local dissidents,” Kolesnikov told VOA’s Russian Service. “It also aims to increase the general atmosphere of fear and suspicion, to create an ‘exchange fund’ with the West.”

Kolesnikov said it appeared that Gershkovich “was in the wrong place at the wrong time,” adding that Moscow is always in need of individuals that it can exchange for Russians who are detained overseas.

More than 30 international and U.S. news outlets and advocacy groups on Friday issued a letter to Russia’s ambassador to the U.S., Anatoly Antonov, demanding Gershkovich’s release.

The organizations said Russia should ensure that the journalist has “immediate access to an attorney provided by his employer” and asked for confirmation of his well-being.

“Gershkovich’s unwarranted and unjust arrest is a significant escalation in your government’s anti-press actions,” the letter read. “Russia is sending the message that journalism within your borders is criminalized and that foreign correspondents seeking to report from Russia do not enjoy the benefits of the rule of law.”

The Kremlin said Friday that journalists with official media accreditation could still work in Russia.

“All journalists who have valid accreditation here — I mean foreign journalists — can and do continue their journalistic activity in the country. They do not face any restrictions and are working fine,” said spokesperson Dmitry Peskov.

Gershkovich, who has worked in Russia as a journalist since 2017, had official accreditation.

No published evidence

Moscow has said that Gershkovich was carrying out espionage “under the cover” of journalism. It has not published evidence to back up that claim, Reuters reported.

David Satter, a former Moscow correspondent for the Financial Times and contributor to the Journal, said he thought Russia could have several motives for the arrest.

“They may want to use [Gershkovich] as some type of future trade or, on the contrary, they may want to harass the United States,” said Satter.

Satter in 2014 became the first U.S. correspondent to be barred from Russia since the Cold War. At the time, he was working as an adviser to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

Another reason for the Journal reporter’s arrest, Satter told VOA, could be to deter newsgathering.

“I think that the core reason here is to make sure that the Russian population doesn’t start providing truthful information to Western journalists about losses, about the collapse of the economy, about demoralization,” he said.

Conditions for journalists in Russia declined swiftly after the country invaded Ukraine, with Moscow issuing new laws and regulations on how they could cover the war. The increased pressure resulted in many local journalists moving their operations into exile.

Foreign correspondents have previously reported being followed while on assignment in Russia, especially when reporting outside the main cities. And data from the Committee to Protect Journalists showed at least 19 local journalists detained for their work in the country as of late 2022.

‘Direct threat’

The U.S.-based James W. Foley Legacy Foundation, which advocates for American hostages, issued a statement saying that Gershkovich’s “unjust detention … is a direct threat to media freedom in Russia and beyond.”

The founder’s president, Diane Foley, told VOA the arrest was “a new low for diplomatic relations between Russia and our country.”

“What’s frightening is it’s going to create more and more black holes around the world where journalists are not going to go and dare report,” she added.

The foundation, created in memory of Foley’s son Jim — an American journalist killed by Islamic State militants in Syria — said that at least four U.S. nationals were currently being held in Russia, including former Marine Paul Whelan, who has been detained for 1,553 days.

Whelan is serving a 16-year sentence at a Russian penal colony after being convicted of espionage.

VOA’s Russian Service and Lori Lundin contributed to this report. Some information came from Reuters.

Макрон хоче застерегти Китай від військової підтримки Росії

Наступного тижня Емманюель Макрон здійснить візит до Китаю

Словаччина планує збільшити виробництво боєприпасів для України – міністр оборони

Словаччина візьме на себе ключову роль у виробництві боєприпасів для України, сказав Ярослав Надь

Russia Sends Bombs as Ukraine Marks Grim Bucha Anniversary

Russia used its long-range arsenal to bombard anew several areas of Ukraine on Friday, killing at least two civilians and damaging homes as Ukrainians commemorated the anniversary of the liberation of Bucha from a brutal occupation by the Kremlin’s forces.

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said that Bucha, a town near Kyiv, stands as a symbol of the atrocities the Russian military has committed since its full-scale invasion of Ukraine began in February 2022.

“We will not let it be forgotten,” Zelenskyy said at a formal ceremony in Bucha, vowing to punish those who committed outrages in the town. “Human dignity will not let it be forgotten. On the streets of Bucha, the world has seen Russian evil. Evil unmasked.”

At the same time as the Bucha commemorations, the Kremlin-allied president of Belarus raised the stakes in the 13-month war when he said that Russian strategic nuclear weapons might be deployed in his country, along with part of Moscow’s tactical nuclear arsenal.

Moscow said earlier this week it planned to place in neighboring Belarus tactical nuclear weapons that are comparatively short-range and low-yield. Strategic nuclear weapons such as missile-borne warheads would bring a greater threat.

Zelenskyy dedicated his attention to an official ceremony in Bucha, where he was joined by the president of the Republic of Moldova and the prime ministers of Croatia, Slovakia and Slovenia.

The Kremlin’s forces occupied Bucha weeks after they invaded Ukraine and stayed for about a month. When Ukrainian troops retook the town, they encountered horrific scenes: bodies of women, young and old men, in civilian clothing, lying in the street where they had fallen or in yards and homes.

Other bodies were found in a mass grave. Over weeks and months, hundreds of bodies were uncovered, including some of children.

Russian soldiers on intercepted phone conversations called it “zachistka” — cleansing, according to an investigation by The Associated Press and the PBS series “Frontline.”

Such organized cruelty — used by Russian troops in past conflicts as well, notably in Chechnya — was later repeated in Russia-occupied territories across Ukraine.

Zelenskyy handed out medals to soldiers, police, doctors, teachers and emergency services in Bucha, as well as to families of two soldiers killed during the defense of the Kyiv region.

“Ukrainian people, you have stopped the biggest anti-human force of our times,” he said. “You have stopped the force which has no respect and wants to destroy everything that gives meaning to human life.”

More than 1,400 civilian deaths, including 37 children, were documented by Ukrainian authorities, Zelenskyy said.

More than 175 people were found in mass graves and alleged torture chambers, according to Zelenskyy. Ukraine and other countries, including the U.S., have demanded that Russia answer for war crimes.

Prosecutor General Andriy Kostin alleged Friday that many of the dead civilians were tortured. Almost 100 Russian soldiers are suspected of war crimes, he said on his Telegram channel, and indictments have been issued for 35 of them.

Two Russian servicemen have already been sentenced by a Ukrainian court to 12 years in prison for illegal deprivation of liberty of civilians and looting.

“I am convinced that all these crimes are not a coincidence. This is part of Russia’s planned strategy aimed at destroying Ukraine as a state and Ukrainians as a nation,” Kostin said.

In Geneva, the U.N. human rights chief said his office has so far verified the deaths of more than 8,400 civilians in Ukraine since Russia’s invasion — a count believed to be far short of the true toll.

Volker Türk told the U.N. Human Rights Council that “severe violations of human rights and international humanitarian law have become shockingly routine” amid Russia’s invasion.

As well as making an announcement about possibly having Russian strategic nuclear weapons on his country’s soil, the Belarusian president also unexpectedly called for a cease-fire in Ukraine without making any reference about how the two developments might be connected.

A truce, Lukashenko said in his state-of-the-nation address in Minsk on Friday, must be announced without any preconditions and all movement of troops and weapons must be halted.

“It’s necessary to stop now until an escalation begins,” Lukashenko said, adding that an anticipated Ukrainian counteroffensive using Western-supplied weapons would bring “an irreversible escalation of the conflict.”

But Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov responded that Russia has to keep fighting, claiming Ukraine has rejected any talks under pressure from its Western allies.

Peskov also dismissed Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s remarks about the European Union mulling the deployment of sending peacekeeping troops to Ukraine as “extremely dangerous.”

Russia has maintained its bombardment of Ukraine with the war already into its second year.

As well as killing at least two civilians in Ukraine, 14 other civilians were wounded early Friday as Russia launched missiles, shells, exploding drones and gliding bombs, the Ukraine presidential office said.

Two Russian missiles hit the city of Kramatorsk in the eastern Donetsk region, damaging eight residential buildings. Throughout the Donetsk region, one civilian was killed and five others wounded by the strikes, the office said.

Nine Russian missiles struck Kharkiv, damaging residential buildings, roads, gas stations and a prison. The Russians also used exploding drones to attack the Kharkiv region.

Russian forces also shelled the southern city of Kherson, killing one resident and wounding two others. The village of Lviv in the Kherson region was struck by gliding bombs that damaged about 10 houses.

The barrage also hit the city of Zaporizhzhia, and its outskirts, causing major fires.