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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has approved a legislation reducing the military mobilization age from 27 to 25, aiming to bolster Ukraine’s armed forces amid heavy losses in the ongoing conflict with Russia. The decision, which was previously passed by MPs in May 2023 but awaited Zelensky’s signature, comes amid concerns over potential Russian offensives in the coming months.

Zelensky had expressed the need for an additional 500,000 soldiers, and this move is seen as a step towards replenishing reserves, especially as volunteer numbers had declined. The intention behind the law’s enactment now may be linked to strategic preparations against possible Russian advancements.

The conflict between Ukraine and Russia has reached a stalemate, with Ukrainian forces unable to make significant territorial gains due to Russian military superiority and formidable defenses. Furthermore, Ukraine’s military operations have been constrained by a reduction in foreign aid, particularly from Western sources, which have been hindered by political disputes.

The casualty figures on both sides remain contentious. While Russian President Vladimir Putin has not disclosed the number of Russian military personnel casualties, a US intelligence report estimated significant losses among Russian forces. Likewise, Ukrainian casualties have been substantial, with conflicting reports on the exact numbers of soldiers killed and injured.

Overall, Zelensky’s approval of the bill reflects Ukraine’s determination to bolster its defenses in the face of ongoing conflict and potential future escalations with Russia.

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Gunmen launched a devastating assault on a concert hall near Moscow, resulting in the tragic loss of at least 60 lives and leaving around 100 people injured, as confirmed by Russian security services. The attackers, numbering at least four and clad in camouflage attire, stormed the Crocus City Hall in Krasnogorsk, igniting chaos and terror.

The concert hall, moments away from hosting a rock concert, witnessed the assailants infiltrating both the foyer and the theatre, setting parts of the building ablaze, which eventually led to a portion of the roof collapsing. Shockingly, children were among the casualties, prompting swift condemnation from the Russian foreign ministry, which labeled the incident a “terrorist attack.”

Although an online statement attributed to the Islamic State claimed responsibility, the assertion remains unverified. Nevertheless, US officials disclosed intelligence suggesting IS harbored intentions to target Russia, a warning conveyed to Russian authorities earlier. Subsequently, Russia’s National Guard mobilized special units to apprehend the attackers, while top officials rushed to the scene.

The harrowing assault unfolded just as thousands gathered for a rock concert by the band Picnic, narrowly sparing the musicians themselves from harm. Witnesses recounted scenes of horror as gunfire erupted, prompting frantic attempts to seek refuge or escape. Fire engulfed the premises, likely initiated by incendiary devices hurled by the assailants.

Emergency responders swarmed the area, tending to the wounded and facilitating evacuations. Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin responded by canceling all public events in the capital, with other regions following suit. Amid the grief and shock, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova called for international condemnation of what she described as “a monstrous crime.”

While Ukrainian officials swiftly disavowed any involvement, tensions heightened as Ukrainian military intelligence insinuated possible Russian involvement, an allegation dismissed by Russian authorities. The attack bore eerie parallels to the 2002 theatre siege in Moscow, evoking memories of past tragedies.

In response to the atrocity, security measures were reinforced at key transport hubs, reflecting a nation on edge in the wake of this appalling act of violence. The White House expressed profound sympathy for the victims, denouncing the attack as an unfathomable act of brutality.

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Approximately 9,000 children are being evacuated from Belgorod and its surrounding areas following shelling incidents attributed to Ukraine, according to Belgorod governor Vyacheslav Gladkov. The recent attacks have resulted in injuries, power outages, and casualties, with 16 people killed and 98 wounded this week alone.

In response to the attacks, schools in Belgorod were closed earlier in the week, and evacuation orders now extend to several villages in the region. The evacuation process is set to begin on Friday, with the initial group comprising 1,200 children.

Russia’s defense ministry claims to have intercepted Ukrainian shells over Belgorod and conducted strikes against alleged Ukrainian “saboteurs” near the border regions. Concurrently, Ukrainian border areas have also faced Russian attacks, necessitating evacuations.

Although Kyiv has not officially responded to the incidents in Belgorod, Russian President Vladimir Putin has accused Ukraine of attempting to disrupt his re-election campaign through the strikes. Putin has urged the Federal Security Service to identify and punish Russian fighters supporting Ukraine’s cause, vowing retribution regardless of their location.

Earlier this month, reports emerged of Russia-based paramilitary groups crossing into Russian territory from Ukraine. Videos circulated by these groups claimed control over villages in the Belgorod and Kursk regions, although Russia’s defense ministry refuted these claims, stating that such attempts were thwarted.

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Firefighters and forensic experts in Spain have reported the recovery of nine bodies from the wreckage of a 14-floor apartment complex in Valencia after a fire ravaged it. Initially, authorities stated that 10 people had perished, but later revised the number, indicating one person was missing.

The rapid spread of the flames, believed to have originated on the fourth floor of one of the blocks, was attributed to both the cladding affixed to the exterior of the building and strong winds. The fire engulfed the structure within minutes, hindering firefighters’ efforts to reach beyond the 12th floor due to the swift combustion facilitated by the cladding.

Investigations highlighted the cladding, which was permitted under building regulations at the time of construction in 2008 but has since been prohibited, as a potential cause for the fire’s rapid escalation. Despite its ban, there was no initiative to remove the hazardous cladding, contrasting with measures taken in the UK after the Grenfell Tower tragedy.

Amidst the devastation, acts of bravery emerged, including the efforts of a caretaker named Julián, who courageously attempted to evacuate residents as the fire spread. Individuals recounted harrowing experiences of escaping the inferno, with some sustaining injuries. Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez and other officials pledged support for the affected families and communities.

Efforts to aid those displaced by the fire are underway, with initiatives to provide housing and essential supplies. The local community has rallied to offer assistance, with donations pouring in for the survivors. In a gesture of respect for the victims, a La Liga match scheduled for Saturday has been postponed. Valencia FC expressed condolences for the tragedy that befell the city.

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According to reports, at least 60 Russian soldiers were killed in eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk region when two missiles struck a training area where troops had gathered for the arrival of a senior commander, Maj-Gen Oleg Moiseyev. The incident occurred just before a meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu, during which Shoigu claimed Russian successes in various areas of the front line. The soldiers, members of the 36th motorised rifle brigade, were allegedly instructed by their commanders to stand in an open field, where they were hit by missiles fired from a US-made HIMARS launch system. Video footage and images from the scene showed numerous dead soldiers.

Separately, reports emerged about the death of military blogger Andrey Morozov, known as Murz, who allegedly took his own life after being pressured by the military to remove a report detailing Russian losses in recent battles. Morozov claimed that about 16,000 troops had been killed or seriously injured, and 300 armored vehicles destroyed. The exact circumstances of Morozov’s death could not be independently verified.

Russia’s military seldom reports casualties, but some pro-Russian military bloggers have regularly provided such information. Ukraine has also spoken about significant casualties among Russian troops. A collaborative effort between BBC Russian and the Mediazona website has updated figures for confirmed deaths in the Russian military over the two years since the invasion of Ukraine, with a total of 45,123 confirmed dead, including 6,614 since October of the previous year.

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The governor of the Belgorod region reported that an air attack in the Russian city resulted in the deaths of at least five individuals and injuries to eighteen others. Videos on social media depicted ambulances outside a damaged shopping center with broken windows. Russian authorities stated that their air defense systems intercepted 14 Ukrainian missiles over the Belgorod region, with one missile striking a shopping center and another hitting a sports stadium.

Belgorod, situated approximately 30km from the Ukrainian border, has frequently been targeted by Ukrainian forces since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine began nearly two years ago. This recent attack follows a previous drone and rocket strike in December that claimed 25 lives and injured 100, marking the deadliest assault on Belgorod thus far.

In response to the ongoing conflict, Russia launched 26 missiles at Ukraine, resulting in the death of a woman in Chuguyiv and multiple injuries. Meanwhile, the battle for the eastern Ukrainian town of Avdiivka continues, with Ukrainian soldiers expressing concerns over shortages of weapons and ammunition.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg cautioned that the US’s failure to approve continued military assistance to Ukraine is impacting the battlefield. Avdiivka holds strategic importance as a gateway to the Russian-controlled city of Donetsk and has been a focal point of conflict since the onset of the eastern Ukrainian conflict in 2014.

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A tragic incident occurred in northeastern Ukraine as a Russian missile struck a hotel, resulting in the death of a two-month-old baby and injuring his mother. The governor of Kharkiv region, Oleh Synehubov, reported the retrieval of the baby’s body from the collapsed building in Zolochiv. This attack, carried out with two S-300 missiles, also wounded two other women. The village’s proximity to the Russian border renders it vulnerable, as Ukrainian air defenses cannot adequately cover such areas.

Originally designed for Russia’s air defense, the S-300 missiles have been repurposed to target Ukrainian ground installations, deemed a cost-effective alternative to more precise cruise missiles. Recent months have seen increased assaults on the Kharkiv region, with another hotel targeted in Kharkiv city previously, resulting in numerous injuries, including journalists covering the conflict.

In response to Russia’s aggression, Ukrainian forces launched a lethal strike on Belgorod, near the border. Additionally, Ukraine’s SBU security service apprehended five individuals suspected of involvement in a Russian espionage ring, allegedly providing sensitive information to Russia’s FSB, including details on military assets and infrastructure.

As Ukraine braces itself amidst the ongoing conflict, President Volodymyr Zelensky contemplates strategic shifts, including potential changes in leadership within the armed forces. Despite challenges and setbacks, Zelensky emphasizes the importance of perseverance and unity in achieving victory.

While US military assistance to Ukraine faces delays due to political wrangling in Congress, the European Union has approved a substantial aid package for Ukraine, highlighting its steadfast support amid the approaching third year of conflict.

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A Russian Ilyushin-76 military transport plane crashed in the southern Belgorod region near the Ukrainian border. The Russian Ministry of Defence claimed that the plane was carrying 65 captured Ukrainian military personnel for a prisoner exchange, but these details could not be independently verified. Reports initially suggested that the plane may have been downed by Ukrainian forces, but these were later deleted. Ukrainian authorities stated they did not have accurate information and were investigating.

Video footage showed the plane crashing and exploding near the village of Yablonovo. The regional governor confirmed all on board had died. Some Ukrainian media suggested the plane was transporting missiles for Russia’s S-300 air defense systems. The head of Ukraine’s military intelligence confirmed a planned prisoner exchange had been canceled.

The Russian defence ministry alleged that Ukraine fired anti-aircraft missiles from the Lyptsi area, claiming two Ukrainian missiles targeted the plane. A prisoner exchange was scheduled at a border checkpoint near Belgorod. Russian officials mentioned a second plane carrying 80 Ukrainian prisoners, but it changed course.

Ukraine and Russia have engaged in several prisoner exchanges during the war. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began in February 2022, with ongoing conflict. The war’s toll includes casualties and intensified air attacks. Ukrainian Defence Minister Rustem Umerov highlighted a shortage of ammunition for Ukrainian forces, while Russia reportedly used over 600 missiles and 1,000 drones in the past two months. Ukraine relies on drones in its defense strategy, and recent attacks caused explosions, including at a gas export terminal near St Petersburg.

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An explosion at a significant gas export terminal near St Petersburg in Russia has reportedly been orchestrated by Ukrainian drones, as informed by sources to BBC News. The incident, which caused a large fire at the Ust-Luga terminal, resulted in no injuries according to Russian officials. Ukrainian sources from Kyiv claim that the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) conducted a “special operation” using targeted drones. Both Russia and Ukraine have utilized drones in the ongoing conflict.

The full-scale invasion of Ukraine by Russia began nearly two years ago, with limited progress reported in recent months. The explosion near St Petersburg occurred at the Ust-Luga terminal of gas producer Novatek, prompting a “high alert regime” in the region. Novatek suspended operations at the terminal, attributing the fire to “external influence” without providing specific details.

According to Ukrainian sources, the fuel processed at the attacked plant supplied Russian troops in the ongoing conflict, and this strike is said to significantly complicate military logistics. The attack is also characterized as an economic blow to Russia, a major fuel exporter from the terminal.

Reports from Russia’s include video footage of tankers near the fire, revealing that two drones were observed heading towards St Petersburg before altering their course towards the Ust-Luga port. Witnesses reported feeling the ground shake with explosions, and about 150 staff were evacuated from the terminal.

The Russian defence ministry stated it shot down three Ukrainian drones in the Smolensk Region near the Ukrainian border on Saturday night, following earlier reports of downed drones in Tula and Oryol in western Russia. No casualties were reported.

Additionally, on the same day, a shelling incident in the Russian-controlled city of Donetsk in eastern Ukraine resulted in at least 25 deaths and 20 injuries at a busy market. Russia and Ukraine have been targeting each other’s energy infrastructure, with a recent fire at an oil depot in Bryansk, southwest Russia, blamed on a Ukrainian drone strike. This follows an attack on a major oil loading terminal in St Petersburg and Russia’s claim of capturing a village near Bakhmut, which Kyiv has not confirmed. Ukraine, facing ammunition shortages, has expressed intentions to domestically produce a million drones this year.

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The initial trial related to the 2023 earthquake in Turkey has commenced, concentrating on the collapse of an Adiyaman hotel that resulted in 72 fatalities. The Isias Grand hotel in Adiyaman hosted a school volleyball team from Turkish-controlled northern Cyprus and a group of tourist guides during the earthquake, with 11 individuals charged for violating construction regulations. The earthquake, occurring on February 6, claimed over 50,000 lives in Turkey and Syria, causing the collapse or severe damage of 160,000 buildings and displacing 1.5 million people.

Charges have been brought against 11 people for breaching construction rules in connection with the collapse of the Isias Grand hotel in Adiyaman during last year’s earthquake. The hotel, which housed a school volleyball team from northern Cyprus and tourist guides, was one of the numerous buildings affected by the earthquake, resulting in significant casualties. The Turkish government initiated investigations, leading to the arrest of nearly 200 individuals, including construction contractors and property owners, for their roles in the disaster.

The trial began with the prosecution focusing on the Isias Grand hotel in Adiyaman, where a tragic incident unfolded during the earthquake last year. A group of 39 individuals, including students, teachers, and parents, had chosen the hotel for a volleyball tournament. The collapse of the hotel resulted in the loss of 35 lives from the group, with only four parents surviving. The trial has prompted the families of the victims to demand severe sentences for the accused individuals and the inclusion of charges against Turkish officials responsible for licensing the hotel.

The Isias Grand hotel, operational since 2001, faced allegations of construction malpractice, including the improper use of materials and unauthorized additional floors in 2016. The indictment revealed that gravel and sand from the local river were mixed with construction materials in the hotel’s columns. Families of the victims expressed outrage, accusing the Culture and Tourism Ministry of neglecting proper inspections despite granting the hotel a four-star rating, and they insisted on accountability for those responsible.

The extensive building collapses resulting from the earthquake stirred widespread criticism of the Turkish government for encouraging a construction boom without effectively enforcing building regulations. The trial has intensified calls for accountability, with grieving families emphasizing the need to charge those responsible for the Isias Hotel’s approval and urging justice for the lives lost. If found guilty, the 11 defendants could face prison terms ranging from two years and eight months to more than 22 years.

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