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At first, Ukrainians used their smartphones to warn others of air raid alerts.

Now, they’ve changed tack, instead using a suite of apps to track Russian missiles heading towards their nation.

Since the start of the war, Russia has attacked Ukraine’s power grid with more than 1,000 missiles. The country’s power network has now been reduced by up to 50%, according to government officials.

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But, speaking in the latest episode of the Sky News Ukraine War Diaries podcast, Kyiv resident Ilyas Verdiev explains why internet connectivity is now sometimes even more coveted than light and heat for besieged residents.

“I had a blackout a week-and-a-half ago, I didn’t have electricity,” he explains. “But more important is that I didn’t have a stable Internet connection.

“That means I didn’t get the information from the different sources of how the situation is at the moment.

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“Telegram is basically an instant messenger [app] where you can post any kind of information to different ‘channels’. I have a few channels.

“One of them gives you an information of how and when the air forces of Russia are moving, whether they bring the missiles, whether the missiles were launched. They can even post the interceptions of pilots from the Russian side.

Ilyas Verdiev, Ukraine War Diarist pictured October 10, 2022
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Ilyas Verdiev is one of a handful of Ukrainians documenting their experience for Sky News’ Ukraine War Diaries

On 5 December, Russia attacked Kyiv with yet another barrage of missiles. Ilyas, like many Kyiv residents, used apps to track the attack from point of origin to eventual execution.

“Today [5 December] they have warned in advance that this air raid is dangerous and there is a massive take-off of their planes which were bringing the missiles on board,” Ilyas continues.

“The other application is the air raid map. It’s a map of Ukraine and each region turns red when the air raid is on in that particular region. We had an air raid starting from the eastern parts of Ukraine. And gradually all of the regions from the east to west to the north and to the south, all over were getting red… if an air raid is growing and covers most of the regions on the map, I will start packing things…and get ready to go to the basement. Sooner or later it will come to Kyiv.

A screen grab of a regional heat map application which illustrates real-time Russian air attacks across Ukraine
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Ilyas uses a heat map app to follow real-time Russian air attacks across Ukraine

“Simultaneously, you can hear the actual siren outside your apartment, and the same time, you have a notification which sounds exactly like a siren on your mobile.

“I can actually make some plans – how to act, what to do, where to go. I can warn my parents in advance – they should be ready to go to the corridor or to a safer place.”

From the creators of Sky News’ award-winning StoryCast, Ukraine War Diaries is a weekly podcast following those living on Europe’s new frontline, and those who have escaped it.

Producer: Robert Mulhern

Digital promotion and additional writing: David Chipakupaku

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Rishi Sunak plans to ban Channel migrants from appealing deportation

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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”.

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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.

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“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.”

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

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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
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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
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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.

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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”.

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China responds to claims by the US that it has identified a Chinese 'surveillance balloon' over Montana
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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.

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

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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.

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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.”

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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.”

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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”.

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‘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.”

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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”.

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