Connect with us

Published

on

A middle-aged woman with a bright yellow hat stepped out of a white van close to the frontline Ukrainian town of Bakhmut, one of the most dangerous places on the planet.

Smiling cheerfully, Liudmyla Bila handed out a jumble of supplies – from woollen socks and metal pans to dried noodles and cans of beans – to a small group of grateful soldiers.

She even gave them periscopes – useful to peer over the top of a trench – and heart-shaped biscuits.

“The guys are helping us [the troops gave her fuel] – and we are helping them”, Liudmyla, 45, said, before jumping back into her van, with two other companions, and heading into Bakhmut.

Liudmyla
Image:
Liudmyla Bila hands out supplies to grateful Ukrainian soldiers

The trio is among a band of volunteers that braves the treacherous journey to distribute aid to the few thousand residents who are still living in the town despite months of relentless bombardments by Russian forces that have prompted most people to flee.

As well as providing supplies, the volunteers try to convince remaining residents to be evacuated, offering to drive them out to safety themselves.

There is no electricity or running water in Bakhmut and the threat of death from incoming rounds is constant.

More on Russia

Russia is desperate to take the town, in Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine, after suffering humiliating defeats elsewhere.

Ukrainian troops are defending hard but the bloody battle – one of the fiercest of the war – has been dubbed a “meat grinder” because of the huge and growing number of casualties.

A local resident leaves his home after Russian shelling destroyed an apartment house in Bakhmut, Donetsk 
PIC:AP
Image:
A resident leaves his home after Russian shelling destroyed an apartment building in Bakhmut. Pic: AP

For local people caught in the middle, there is an added danger as winter falls and temperatures drop below freezing.

The active combat means even entering the town is high risk.

But Liudmyla said her only son, 22, is a soldier fighting around Bakhmut. She said she wanted to be nearby, adding: “I am not afraid.”

Her voluntary group of some 20 people is called Wings of Liberty, based in the city of Dnipro, about a five hour drive from Bakhmut.

Ukrainian soldiers in a shelter in the frontline near Bakhmut, Donetsk region, Ukraine, Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2022. (AP Photo/LIBKOS)
Image:
Ukrainian soldiers in a shelter in the frontline near Bakhmut. Pic: AP/LIBKOS

She makes the round trip to the town every week.

Sky News followed her and her team – 35-year-old Olha Ekzarkhova, whose brother was killed on the frontline two months ago, and Ian Boiko, 39, who drives the van – into Bakhmut on Wednesday morning.

They stopped in a residential area, surrounded by large, concrete apartment blocks.

Glass was shattered across the ground – evidence of past blasts having blown out windows.

The volunteers had to work quickly – wanting to minimise their time on the ground. The sound of distant explosions and gunfire could be heard.

“People!” shouted Liudmyla as she and Olha darted from the van to one of the blocks, carrying bottles of water, candles, blankets and food.

No one immediately appeared.

Please use Chrome browser for a more accessible video player

‘Ferocious’ battle for Bakhmut

They left the aid at the top of a short flight of steps leading down to a shelter in the basement. Liudmyla said people are living in there.

We knocked on the door to the shelter but there was no reply. It turned out they had gone to another spot in town where it is still possible to pick up mobile phone signal.

A tired-looking man was shuffling around the entrance of the apartment block next door.

Sky News approached him, but he did not want to speak and said no one else was around.

Aid delivered, Liudmyla and her team headed further into town.

We peeled off to speak with people in a small crowd on the side of a main road.

Desperate and weary, they queued at a window to try to receive stoves to heat their homes.

Read more:
Eyewitness | Ukrainians fight Russian mercenaries and plummeting temperatures in the Battle for Bakhmut

One woman moved away from the window empty handed.

Asked how life is in Bakhmut, Oksana, 75, said: “Very difficult. Very difficult.”

Then her face crumpled and her voice broke.

It is “impossible, cold – without blankets”, she said.

“This is bad. We are freezing. The temperature is only 3 to 5 degrees inside our home.

“We are waiting here for a stove. They told us to put your names on a list and wait. When will it end? When will it end? Oh God.

“Why are they [Russians] so stubborn when it comes to our Bakhmut? And here: war, war, war. They have been hitting us all the time for more than half a year already.”

The Ukrainian service members fight and stay warm in the Donetsk region
Sergiy, 35, an operator for a self propelled artillery vehicle with the 24th Mechanized Brigade of King Danylo of the Ukrainian Army heats up water for coffee while waiting for coordinates to strike a Russian military target as Russia’s invasion on Ukraine continues near Bakhmut in Ukraine, December 3, 2022. REUTERS/ Leah Millis
Image:
Ukrainian service members fight and stay warm close to Bakhmut

She explained that she lived with her husband who is 82 and too frail to be evacuated.

“How can I leave him? There are no doctors here. No nurses. Nothing is here.”

Oksana said she was worried about having to live through the winter. As she spoke booms from incoming rounds could be heard, again in the distance.

“We are in the Stone Age. It is terrifying to live like this in the 21st century. And no one in the world can help us. How can it be?”

With the sound of explosions growing louder, we decided to leave.

Click to subscribe to Beth Rigby Interviews… wherever you get your podcasts

On the way out of town, an artillery round or some other form of munition exploded up ahead. We did not see the impact but could see the smoke.

Suddenly, there was a loud blast and our vehicle shook.

A second round had smashed into the ground to the right of us, sending shrapnel across the road. It narrowly missed a small car that was just ahead of ours – a reminder of the reality and the randomness of this war.

Continue Reading

World

Rishi Sunak plans to ban Channel migrants from appealing deportation

Published

on

By

Rishi Sunak plans to ban Channel migrants from appealing deportation

The prime minister is looking to ban people arriving in the UK via small boats from appealing against deportation, Sky News understands.

Rishi Sunak has made stopping Channel migrant crossings one of his five priorities in office, promising to introduce new laws to “make sure that if you come to this country illegally, you are detained and swiftly removed”.

Politics latest: Number 10 doesn’t deny claim top civil servant may have failed to pass on Raab complaint

A report in The Times said the Home Office has now drawn up two plans to stop people arriving via this route from claiming asylum – either withdrawing the right to appeal against automatic exclusion from the asylum system or only allowing them to appeal after they have been deported.

A third proposal would prevent people from being able to use the Human Rights Act to stop their deportations, such as by claiming their right to family life.

Sky News understands the report to be accurate.

A Home Office spokesperson would not comment directly on the report, but said: “The unacceptable number of people risking their lives by making these dangerous crossings is placing an unprecedented strain on our asylum system.

Read more:
Around 500 migrants cross Channel to UK in one day
PM vows to clear immigration backlog

“Our priority is to stop this and prevent these illegal crossings, and our new Small Boats Operational Command – bolstered by hundreds of extra staff – is working hard to disrupt the business model of people smugglers.”

They added: “We are also going further by introducing legislation which will ensure that those people arriving in the UK illegally are detained and promptly removed either to their home country or a safe third country.”

Continue Reading

World

Chinese spy balloon: US sec of state Blinken speaks with senior Chinese official over cancelled visit

Published

on

By

Chinese spy balloon: US sec of state Blinken speaks with senior Chinese official over cancelled visit

US secretary of state Antony Blinken has spoken with a senior Chinese official about his postponed trip to the country.

US officials said Mr Blinken spoke to the Director of the Central Foreign Affairs Office Wang Yi today postponing the planned visit.

But the secretary of state “indicated he would plan to travel” to China “at the earliest opportunity when conditions allow”.

Officials also said they “noted” China’s statement of regret but said “the presence of this balloon in our airspace is a clear violation of our sovereignty, as well as international law, and it is unacceptable that this has occurred”.

The diplomatic wrangling comes after a Chinese surveillance balloon has been tracked by US intelligence in recent days.

In a press conference today, the US defence department has said the Chinese spy balloon is heading eastwards but poses “no physical or military threat” to civilians.

The Pentagon’s press secretary would not confirm the current location of the balloon, which is operating at around 60,000ft.

There is also no evidence of any nuclear or radioactive material on board but it has the ability to be manoeuvred, according to Brigadier General Pat Ryder.

The spy balloon's route from China over the Aleutian Islands, through Canada and into Montana
Image:
The spy balloon’s route from China over the Aleutian Islands, through Canada and into Montana

Watch:
Future Wars: Could there ever be a conflict between the US and China?

He also rejected Chinese claims that the balloon was in fact a “civilian airship” that had strayed into American airspace.

The US authorities said it now knows the object – spotted over Billings, Montana, on Wednesday, close to one of the US’s three nuclear missile silo fields at Malmstrom Air Force Base – was a Chinese balloon flying over sensitive sites to collect information.

A map showing where the balloon was spotted and the US's Malmstrom Air Force Base
Image:
A map showing where the balloon was spotted and the US’s Malmstrom Air Force Base

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken postponed a high-profile visit to China which had been due to begin on Sunday.

Senior state department officials described the incident as a “clear violation of US sovereignty and international law” and said conditions were “not right at this moment” for Mr Blinken to travel.

Mr Blinken was prepared to depart for China tonight before the trip was postponed, Sky News understands.

He plans to travel “when conditions allow”, according to officials.

Please use Chrome browser for a more accessible video player

Pentagon spokesman said that suspected Chinese spy balloon flying over the US has ‘violated international law’, adding that it doesn’t pose any physical threat for people on the ground.

The Foreign Ministry in Beijing admitted the balloon had come from China – but said it was for meteorological and other scientific research.

The Pentagon spokesperson said it is “monitoring the situation closely and will continue to review options”.

Read more:
What are spy balloons?

China responds to claims by the US that it has identified a Chinese 'surveillance balloon' over Montana
Image:
China responds to claims by the US that it has identified a Chinese ‘surveillance balloon’ over Montana

The balloon will probably remain over the US for a few days, the spokesperson added.

US officials also confirmed military intelligence had previously seen similar surveillance balloons elsewhere.

The object is believed to have flown over the Aleutian Islands, off the coast of Alaska, and through Canada before entering the US.

Military and defence leaders had considered shooting the balloon out of the sky but decided against it due to the safety risk from falling debris.

US defence secretary Lloyd Austin convened a meeting of senior military and defence leaders to review the threat profile of the balloon and possible responses, which were presented to US President Joe Biden on Wednesday.

President Biden, speaking at a White House conference about jobs earlier today, refused to answer questions on the topic.

The US has engaged Chinese officials “with urgency” and communicated the seriousness of the situation.

China and the US have experienced tensions of late, clashing over Taiwan and China’s human rights record and its military activity in the South China Sea.

Continue Reading

World

Paris Olympics: UK to host summit in bid to ban Russia from games

Published

on

By

Paris Olympics: UK to host summit in bid to ban Russia from games

Opposition to Russians being allowed to compete at next year’s Paris Olympics is intensifying, as the UK government prepares to convene talks with more than 30 countries.

The summit is due to be held next Friday 10 February.

The International Olympic Committee is facing dissent over its willingness to allow athletes from Russia to compete as neutrals in Paris next year in defiance of pleas from Ukraine, following Vladimir Putin’s invasion.

Ukraine war – latest updates

Ukrainian Olympic officials decided on Friday to consult on a possible boycott of the Olympics and an outright ban on Russian athletes – a stance supported by the leaders of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania which border Russia and gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.

Lithuania’s sports minister Jurgita Siugzdiniene told Sky News that her British counterpart has organised a virtual meeting next Friday involving more than 30 countries on excluding athletes from Russia and Belarus from the Olympics.

As well as European governments, officials from Canada, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea are among the global participants in the meeting. Poland has said it would be possible to build a coalition of about 40 countries, including the US, Britain and Canada.

“We should do everything [so] Russian and Belarusian athletes would not participate in the Olympics, and even under the veil of neutrality,” Ms Siugzdiniene said.

“That’s what we should agree and that is very important. And so in that way we wouldn’t need to discuss the boycott.”

Please use Chrome browser for a more accessible video player

Who is winning the war in Ukraine?

The IOC announced last week that it was open to athletes from Russia and Belarus – which has been used as a staging post for the invasion of Ukraine – competing as neutrals in Paris if they have not actively supported the war.

“I see it as an effort to legitimise and distract attention from Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine,” Ms Siugzdiniene said.

“I think they can use this as a platform. So it would be very wrong that we would provide this opportunity for them.”

Read more:
Russia preparing for ‘maximum escalation’, top Ukrainian security official tells Sky News
Ex-commander of Russian mercenary group apologises for fighting in Ukraine

In the last three summer and winter Olympics between 2018 and 2022, Russian athletes have been prevented from competing with the national flag or anthem as punishment for the country’s state-sponsored doping scheme.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has said any neutral flag for Russia in Paris would be “stained with blood”.

At Friday’s meeting, Ukraine’s sports minister and president of the country’s Olympic committee Vadym Hutzait said members were united “against allowing sportspeople from Russia and Belarus from competing”.

Please use Chrome browser for a more accessible video player

‘Russia will respond to Western arms supplies’

In an appeal to sporting authorities, he said: “As long as the war is going on, as long as our motherland is being bombed, as long as we are fighting for freedom and independence, we have a great wish not to see them [Russians and Belarusians].

“There is a discussion on the international level and we have already some countries supporting us.”

He added: “The price of Ukrainians’ lives is of the highest value. We have no right for compromise … when our Ukrainians are dying.”

Please use Chrome browser for a more accessible video player

Johnson tells the West: ‘Give Ukraine planes’

The IOC wants sports federations to allow any Russians or Belarusians who have not been “actively supporting the war in Ukraine” to take part and argues it would be discriminatory to ban athletes based on their citizenship alone.

It has responded to the comparison with Apartheid-era South Africa being excluded from the Olympics for more than 20 years, pointing out that UN sanctions were in place at the time.

“There are no UN sanctions in place against Russia and Belarus at this moment in time,” the IOC said.

But Russia, as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, can veto any proposed resolution.

Government pressure on athletes and sports bodies should also be resisted, the IOC said, adding its stated mission is “to unite the entire world in a peaceful competition”.

Continue Reading

Trending