Officer who 'boasted' of killing civilians becomes Russia's first female commander to die

·30-min read
Lieutenant Colonel Olga 'Kursa' Kachura  - East2west News
Lieutenant Colonel Olga 'Kursa' Kachura - East2west News

A commander in the Russian army who “boasted of how she enjoyed killing Ukrainians” has become the Kremlin's first senior woman officer to die in the conflict, according to reports.

Lieutenant Colonel Olga 'Kursa' Kachura was killed when a Ukrainian missile struck her car as she drove in the city of Horlivka, in the Donetsk region of Ukraine.

The 52-year-old from Donetsk was a colonel commanding a unit in the forces of the Russian puppet state Donetsk People's Republic that has been accused of shelling civilians.

The Strategic Communications Department of the Armed Forces of Ukraine previously claimed that she would dress as a member of their forces in order to commit war crimes and discredit them.

Kachura worked for most of her life in the police force in her native Donetsk before she resigned for a brief stint in private security.

Olga Kachura - East2west News 
Olga Kachura - East2west News

In 2014, when Russian and Russia-backed fighters captured swathes of eastern Ukraine, she joined a battalion of notorious Russian warlord Igor Bezler.

Kachura, who studied programming for ballistic missiles, went on to head an artillery unit.

In January 2022, a court in western Ukraine found Kachura also known under the alias “Korsa” guilty of taking part in a terrorist organisation and sentenced her to 12 years in prison in absentia.

Ukrainian intelligence alleged she personally guided artillery fire during key battles in the Donbas in 2014-2015, causing a great loss of life.

Kachura in an interview with Russian television once said she enjoying fighting with Ukrainians:

“I enjoy it every time I fire at Ukrainians.”

In her last interview with Rossiyskaya Gazeta a week before she died, Kachura, however, insisted it was not the Ukrainians she was fighting against: “What made you think that I’m fighting Ukrainians? I’m fighting Nato. The territory of Ukraine is one military firing range.”

Hailed in eastern Ukraine as a hero, she adopted a boy after the conflict first broke out in 2014 and raised a daughter who briefly survived in her artillery unit.

Early on Thursday, President Vladimir Putin signed a decree to make her a Hero of Russia, the country’s top military award, “for courage and heroism while performing her military duty”.

Kachura’s death comes as Vladimir Putin’s forces suffer setbacks. Ukraine’s military is continuing to target Russian military strongholds, logistical support bases and ammunition depots, pulling intense pressure on the Kremlin.

05:00 PM

What we learnt today

  • Amnesty International has accused the Ukrainian army of endangering civilians and violating humanitarian law in their fight against Russian invaders.

  • US Women's basketball star Brittney Griner has been sentenced to nine years in prison for bringing vape cartridges filled with cannabis oil into Russia.

  • A female commander in the Russian army who “boasted of how she enjoyed killing Ukrainians” has become the Kremlin's first senior woman officer to die in the conflict, according to reports.

  • Russian forces are engaged in considerable military activity, firing from tanks, barrel and rocket artillery in several parts of Ukraine, the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces has said.

  • Eight people were killed and four have been wounded by Russian artillery shelling in the eastern Ukrainian town of Toretsk in the Donetsk region, the regional governor said.

04:56 PM

Biden lashes out at Griner sentence

US President Joe Biden has released a statement blasting Russia following the sentencing of Brittney Griner.

"Today, American citizen Brittney Griner received a prison sentence that is one more reminder of what the world already knew: Russia is wrongfully detaining Brittney. It’s unacceptable, and I call on Russia to release her immediately so she can be with her wife, loved ones, friends, and teammates.

"My administration will continue to work tirelessly and pursue every possible avenue to bring Brittney and Paul Whelan home safely as soon as possible."

Brittney Griner, who was detained at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport and later charged with illegal possession of cannabis - Kirill KUDRYAVTSEV / POOL / AFP
Brittney Griner, who was detained at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport and later charged with illegal possession of cannabis - Kirill KUDRYAVTSEV / POOL / AFP

04:48 PM

U.S. diplomat says Griner sentence 'a miscarriage of justice'

Chargé d'affaires of the U.S. embassy in Moscow, Elizabeth Rood, said on Thursday that the 9 year prison sentence given to U.S. basketball star Brittney Griner had been "a miscarriage of justice".

Ms Rood was speaking outside the courtroom where Griner was found guilty of drugs possession and smuggling for entering Russia with cannabis-infused vape cartridges.

Read the full story here.

04:44 PM

Finland preparing to limit Russian tourist visas

Finland's Foreign Minister has presented a plan for limiting tourist visas issued to Russians, after increasing tourism from its eastern neighbour spurred discontent due to the war in Ukraine.

As flights from Russia to the EU have been halted, Finland has become a transit country for many Russians seeking to travel further into Europe.

"Many saw this as a circumvention of the sanctions regime," Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto told AFP.

Finland is seeking NATO membership after political and popular support for the alliance soared following Moscow's invasion of Ukraine, but the Nordic country remains Russia's only EU neighbour without restrictions on tourist visas to Russian citizens.

04:34 PM

US Basketball star sentenced to nine years in prison

American women's basketball star Brittney Griner has been sentenced to nine years in Russian prison after being found guilty of drug smuggling with criminal intent, in a decision blasted by US President Joe Biden.

The court "found the defendant guilty" of smuggling and possessing "a significant amount of narcotics", after Ms Griner brought vape cartridges with cannabis oil into Moscow in February, judge Anna Sotnikova told a court in the town of Khimki just outside Moscow.

She has also been fined one million roubles, which is around £13,500.

Ms Griner earlier pleaded for the judge not to "end her life" with a harsh prison sentence, but two-time Olympic gold medallist now faces a lengthy stretch behind bars.

Read the full verdict here.

03:47 PM

Gazprom says one out of six turbines currently operating at Nord Stream 1

The Nord Stream 1 gas pipeline is currently operating with only one turbine instead of six, Russian state gas company Gazprom has said.

It reiterated that Western sanctions are preventing the delivery of one of the turbines back from Germany after it was under maintenance in Canada and said that some other turbines also needed repairs.

03:26 PM

Ukraine holds talks with Guinea-Bissau

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has been on the phone with Umaro Sissoco Embaló, the president of Guinea-Bissau. The pair spoke about food security and Ukraine's role in the region.

03:13 PM

What Griner told the Court

WNBA star Brittney Griner is awaiting the judge's decision, and could face nearly 10 years in prison on drugs charges.

She told the court: "My parents taught me two important things: one, take ownership of your responsibilities and two, work hard for everything that you have. That's why I pled guilty to my charges. I understand everything that has been said against me, the charges that are against me, and that is why I pled guilty. But I had no intent to break any Russian laws"

Brittney Griner, who was detained at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport and later charged with illegal possession of cannabis -  Kirill KUDRYAVTSEV / AFP
Brittney Griner, who was detained at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport and later charged with illegal possession of cannabis - Kirill KUDRYAVTSEV / AFP

"I want the court to understand that this was an honest mistake that I made while rushing, under stress, trying to recover from COVID and just trying to get back to my team."

"I know everybody keeps talking about political pawn and politics, but I hope that is far from this courtroom."

"I made an honest mistake and I hope that in your ruling, that it doesn't end my life here.

"I want to say again that I had no intent on breaking any Russians laws. I had no intent, I did not conspire or plan to commit this crime."

03:04 PM

Ukraine slams 'unfair' Amnesty report on military in civilian areas

Ukraine's foreign minister on Thursday criticised as "unfair" a report from Amnesty International alleging Kyiv put civilians at risk by stationing troops in residential areas as it fights Russia's invasion.

"This behaviour of Amnesty International is not about finding and reporting the truth to the world, it is about creating a false equivalence - between the offender and the victim, between the country that destroys hundreds and thousands of civilians, cities, territories, and a country that is desperately defending itself," Dmytro Kuleba said in a video posted on Facebook.

Dmytro Kuleba - Kay Nietfeld/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
Dmytro Kuleba - Kay Nietfeld/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

02:49 PM

Ukraine expects first vessel to arrive to collect grain

A Turkish bulk carrier is expected to arrive in the Ukrainian Black Sea port of Chornomorsk on Friday and will be the first vessel to arrive at a Ukrainian port during Russia's invasion, a spokesperson for the regional administration of Odesa said.

"The Turkish bulk carrier Osprey S, flying the flag of Liberia, is heading from the Dardanelles Strait to the port of Chornomorsk," Serhiy Bratchuk, the spokesperson, wrote on Telegram late on Wednesday.

"This will be the first vessel that has not been blocked in our ports since February 24, heading to (collect) Ukrainian export grain," he said.

As of Thursday afternoon, Osprey S was anchored in the Sea of Marmara, around 1 kilometre (0.62 mile) off Istanbul's Asian coast, along with other ships waiting to cross the Bosphorus in to the Black Sea, according to a Reuters witness.

The statement comes after Turkey and the United Nations brokered a deal between Russia and Ukraine that aims to ease a global food crisis.

A first vessel carrying Ukrainian grain set sail from the port city of Odesa on Monday and arrived at the north end of the Bosphorus Strait around 36 hours later.

02:32 PM

Basketball star Griner says bringing cannabis into Russia was 'an honest mistake'

US basketball star Brittney Griner said that bringing cannabis into Russia was "an honest mistake" after a Moscow court found her guilty of drugs charges.

Griner, who pleaded guilty to the charges, said that she did not intend to break the law, and that her parents had taught her to take ownership of her responsibilities.

Earlier, a Russian prosecutor requested 9.5 years in prison for Griner after the court concluded that she was guilty of bringing cannabis-infused vape cartridges into Russia.

Brittney Griner stands inside a defendants' cage before a court hearing in Khimki outside Moscow - REUTERS/Evgenia Novozhenina/Pool
Brittney Griner stands inside a defendants' cage before a court hearing in Khimki outside Moscow - REUTERS/Evgenia Novozhenina/Pool

02:07 PM

Kyiv 'endangering civilians' by using schools and hospitals as military bases

Amnesty International has accused the Ukrainian army of endangering civilians and violating humanitarian law in their fight against Russian invaders.

The human rights NGO said Ukrainian forces in Kharkiv, Donbas and Mykolaiv had in some cases established bases and operated weapons systems in populated residential areas, including in schools and hospitals.

The group said such tactics violate international humanitarian law as they turn civilians into targets for Russian strikes.

“We have documented a pattern of Ukrainian forces putting civilians at risk and violating the laws of war when they operate in populated areas,” Agnes Callamard, Amnesty International’s Secretary General, said.

While the group said the practices “do not in any way justify indiscriminate Russian attacks”, Dr Callamard added: “Being in a defensive position does not exempt the Ukrainian military from respecting international humanitarian law.”

Amnesty claimed that it was not aware that the Ukrainian military who located themselves in civilian structures buildings had asked or assisted civilians to evacuate, which it said was a “failure to take all feasible precautions to protect civilians”.

01:38 PM

Today's top stories

  • US basketball star Brittney Griner returns to a Russian court today as her drugs trial grinds towards a finale that could end with a 10-year prison sentence

  • Russia is using Europe’s largest nuclear power plant to shelter from Ukrainian bombardment and launch attacks on civilians, with the United Nations warning the situation is “completely out of control” amid fears of a nuclear disaster.

  • Russian forces are engaged in considerable military activity, firing from tanks, barrel and rocket artillery in several parts of Ukraine, the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces has said.

  • Ukraine is facing a worsening health emergency as the conflict with Russia rages on, the World Health Organisation said, with a combination of burnt-out staff, increased shelling and the approach of winter fuelling the agency's concerns.

  • Moscow has said a Norwegian consul who was filmed throwing a tantrum at a hotel reception and proclaiming "I hate Russians" should leave Russia.

  • Eight people were killed and four have been wounded by Russian artillery shelling in the eastern Ukrainian town of Toretsk in the Donetsk region, the regional governor said.

  • At least five people were killed and six injured on Thursday when Ukrainian forces shelled Donetsk, a Ukrainian city held by Russian-backed separatists, officials in the breakaway region said.

01:17 PM

Basketball star should serve 9 1/2 years in prison, Russian prosecutor says

A Russian prosecutor demanded US basketball star Brittney Griner be sentenced to nine and a half years in prison on drugs charges at a trial that is expected to end in a verdict later on Thursday.

Griner, a two-time Olympic gold medallist and a Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA) star, was detained at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport on Feb 17 with vape cartridges containing hashish oil in her luggage.

Cannabis is illegal in Russia for both medicinal and recreational purposes.

"The verdict is expected to be announced this evening," said Griner's lawyer Maria Blagovolina, partner at Rybalkin Gortsunyan Dyakin and Partners law firm.

The cartridges threw the 31-year-old Texan athlete into the geopolitical maelstrom triggered when President Vladimir Putin sent troops into Ukraine on Feb 24.

During the most strained U.S.-Russian relations since the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, US President Joe Biden is under pressure to intervene on behalf of detained Americans - including Griner.

12:58 PM

Russian shelling at bus stop kills 8 in east Ukraine

Russian shelling of a bus stop Thursday in the frontline east Ukraine town of Toretsk killed eight people and left four wounded, the regional governor said.

"According to preliminary information, there was artillery fire. They hit a public transport stop, where there was a crowd of people at that time," Pavlo Kyrylenko, head of the Ukraine-run Donetsk region administration, wrote on Telegram.

12:31 PM

Russian teacher sentenced for telling students about war crimes in Ukraine

A school teacher in a provincial Russian city has received a suspended sentence for speaking out in class against the Kremlin’s invasion of Ukraine, our Russia correspondent Nataliya Vasilyeva reports.

A court in Penza, 500 kilometres southeast of Moscow, on Thursday found Irina Gen guilty of “discrediting the Russian armed forces” under a new law that has banned any criticism of the war in Ukraine and gave her a five-year suspended sentence. The 45-year-old English teacher will also be barred from working in state schools for three years.

The court in Penza found that she “disseminated false information” by telling her students about the siege of Mariupol and Russian airstrikes killing children in Ukraine.

You can read Nataliya's report in full here.

12:14 PM

EU aims for 8 bln euro Ukraine aid package by September

The European Union intends to put together another financing package for Ukraine by September that will amount to about 8 billion euros ($8.15 billion), German government sources said.

Part of the package would be made up of grants that do not have to be repaid while another part will consist of loans, a government official told journalists on Thursday.

11:58 AM

Kremlin says Turkish grain deal not 'one-off', hopes it will continue

The Kremlin said on Thursday that a Turkish-brokered deal to unblock Ukraine's grain exports from the Black Sea was not a "one-off mechanism", and that it hoped it would continue to work effectively.

"This is not a one-time mechanism, but a mechanism that is designed to ensure the export of the grain that has accumulated in these ports," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters. "Therefore, we hope that this mechanism will continue to work just as effectively."

The deal, which allows for Ukrainian grain to be shipped to world markets via Turkey, was reached after talks in Istanbul last month. It must be renewed every 120 days by agreement of the parties.

11:42 AM

Ukraine war is Europe's most dangerous time since WW2, says Nato

The war in Ukraine is the most dangerous moment for Europe since World War Two, and Russia must not be allowed to win, Nato Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said on Thursday.

To prevent Moscow from succeeding, Nato and its member countries may have to continue to support Ukraine with arms and other assistance for a long time to come, he said.

"It's in our interest that this type of aggressive policy does not succeed," the former prime minister of Norway said in a speech in his native country.

"What happens in Ukraine is terrible but it would be much worse if there was a war between Russia and Nato," he said.

Describing what Moscow calls a "special military operation" as an attack on the current world order, Stoltenberg said the alliance had to prevent the war from spreading.

"This is the most dangerous situation in Europe since World War Two."

"If President (Vladimir) Putin even thinks of doing something similar to a Nato country as he has done to Georgia, Moldova or Ukraine, then all of NATO will be involved immediately," Stoltenberg said.

11:24 AM

Russia summons Norwegian ambassador after 'Russophobic' comments

Further to our post at 10.47am, Russia's foreign ministry has summoned Norway's ambassador to Moscow in protest at what it called the Norwegian consul in Murmansk's "offensive Russophobic comments".

Footage on Russian social media showed what it said was the consul appearing to say "I hate Russians".

Norway's foreign ministry said that it "deeply regrets" the incident.

11:21 AM

Shelling kills 5 in Donetsk - Russian-backed separatists

At least five people were killed and six injured on Thursday when Ukrainian forces shelled Donetsk, a Ukrainian city held by Russian-backed separatists, officials in the breakaway region said.

Footage on social media showed bodies, some blown apart, lying beside a road in central Donetsk. Blood stained the pavement.

The Donetsk People's Republic said in a statement that 5 people had been killed and 6 injured during shelling of the city's Voroshilovsky district.

The report could not be immediately independently verified.

11:03 AM

Russian shelling 'kills eight' in Toretsk - governor

Eight people were killed and four have been wounded by Russian artillery shelling in the eastern Ukrainian town of Toretsk in the Donetsk region, the regional governor said.

The shelling hit a public transport stop where people had gathered, Governor Pavlo Kyrylenko wrote on Telegram.

Three children were among the wounded, he said.

10:47 AM

Norwegian consul should leave after 'Russophobic' insults - Moscow

Moscow has said a Norwegian consul who was filmed throwing a tantrum at a hotel reception and proclaiming "I hate Russians" should leave Russia.

"After what happened, Elisabeth Ellingsen's presence in Russia is impossible," the foreign ministry said in a statement.

Ms Ellingsen was filmed at a hotel in Murmansk complaining about her room, swearing and saying: "I hate Russians."

10:32 AM

Russia must not win in Ukraine - Nato chief

Russia should not be allowed to win the war in Ukraine, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has said.

"It's in our interest that this type of aggressive policy does not succeed," Mr Stoltenberg said in a speech in his native Norway.

10:15 AM

Russia seizes Zaporizhzhia

09:58 AM

Olaf Scholz signals U-turn on shutting Germany’s nuclear plants

Germany's chancellor has signalled that the country will keep its last three nuclear plants, upending a legacy policy of Angela Merkel to shut them down, reports James Rothwell.

As European countries scramble to find alternatives to Russian gas, Olaf Scholz said it "made sense" to continue running three plants that were due to be closed down at the end of the year.

“As far as the energy supply in Germany is concerned, the three last nuclear plants are relevant exclusively for electricity production, and only for a small part of it," said Mr Scholz. "Nevertheless, it makes sense [to continue running them]."

You can read James' report in full here.

09:33 AM

Ukrainian forces clear mines by throwing objects on them

09:16 AM

Ukrainian troops around Zaporizhzhia, in pictures

Russia-Ukraine war: Kyiv 'endangering civilians' by using schools as military bases, says Amnesty - Dmytro Smolyenko/Avalon
Russia-Ukraine war: Kyiv 'endangering civilians' by using schools as military bases, says Amnesty - Dmytro Smolyenko/Avalon
Russia-Ukraine war: Kyiv 'endangering civilians' by using schools as military bases, says Amnesty - Dmytro Smolyenko/Avalon
Russia-Ukraine war: Kyiv 'endangering civilians' by using schools as military bases, says Amnesty - Dmytro Smolyenko/Avalon
Russia-Ukraine war: Kyiv 'endangering civilians' by using schools as military bases, says Amnesty - Dmytro Smolyenko/Avalon
Russia-Ukraine war: Kyiv 'endangering civilians' by using schools as military bases, says Amnesty - Dmytro Smolyenko/Avalon

08:48 AM

Health crisis worsens - WHO

Ukraine is facing a worsening health emergency as the conflict with Russia rages on, the World Health Organisation said, with a combination of burnt-out staff, increased shelling and the approach of winter fuelling the agency's concerns.

There have been 434 attacks on healthcare facilities in the country, out of 615 such attacks reported this year worldwide, according to a WHO tracker.

The WHO's Ukraine emergency co-ordinator Heather Papowitz said healthcare teams in many areas have become used to working with shelling outside their window.

"It's kind of falling off the news in a way... but this is an emergency of public health," Ms Papowitz told Reuters on Wednesday.

Ms Papowitz, who visited Ukraine last week, said the WHO was most concerned about areas inaccessible to its teams due to fighting or Russian occupation, including the eastern Donbas region and Kherson to the south.

"Getting access is the biggest issue, it is what keeps us up at night," she said, citing challenges in getting medicines into these areas for people with chronic conditions or treating physical and mental trauma.

Disease control is also a factor. Ukraine has low vaccination coverage for measles and a polio outbreak, and there have been concerns over the risk of cholera. No cholera outbreaks have yet been verified, said Ms Papowitz.

08:21 AM

UN watchdog appeals for access to Ukrainian nuclear plant

The head of the United Nations nuclear watchdog appealed for access to a Ukrainian nuclear power plant now controlled by Russian forces to determine whether it was a source of danger.

Contact with the Europe's largest nuclear plant, which is at Zaporizhzhia and is being operated by Ukrainian technicians, was "fragile" and communications did not function every day, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) head Rafael Grossi told Swiss paper Tages-Anzeiger.

"We can't afford faulty communication with the plant in areas relevant to safety. We know of allegations that live ammunition is stored in the plant, that there are attacks on the power plant," he said in interview published in German.

"Frankly, if I don't have access, I can't determine that. There are contradictions between the accounts of the Russian and Ukrainian sides. I receive information, I also mention it in my situation reports, but I have no way of determining whether it corresponds to the facts."

A Russian-installed official in Ukraine said on Wednesday that Ukrainian forces had repeatedly used Western arms to attack the plant, which has two of six reactors operating and has been the subject of repeated warnings from Ukraine, the West and Russia.

07:56 AM

Closing arguments set for Brittney Griner trial

Closing arguments in Brittney Griner's cannabis possession case in Russia are set for today, nearly six months after the American basketball star was arrested at a Moscow airport in a case that has reached the highest levels of US-Russia diplomacy.

Ms Griner faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted. Although a conviction appears almost certain, given that Russian courts rarely acquit defendants and Ms Griner has acknowledged that there were vape canisters with cannabis oil in her luggage, judges have considerable latitude on sentencing.

Lawyers for the two-time Olympic gold medalist have pursued strategies to bolster her contention that she had no criminal intent and that the canisters ended up in her luggage due to hasty packing. They have presented character witnesses from the Russian team that she plays for in the WNBA off-season and written testimony from a doctor who said he prescribed her cannabis for pain treatment.

It's not clear when the verdict will be announced. If she does not go free, attention will turn to the high-stakes possibility of a prisoner swap.

Before her trial began in July, the State Department designated her as "wrongfully detained," moving her case under the supervision of its special presidential envoy for hostage affairs, effectively the government's chief hostage negotiator.

Then last week, in an extraordinary move, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke to his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, urging him to accept a deal under which Griner and Paul Whelan, an American imprisoned in Russia on an espionage conviction, would go free.

07:25 AM

Russia creating strike group in Volodymyr Zelensky's home town

Russian forces are engaged in considerable military activity, firing from tanks, barrel and rocket artillery in several parts of Ukraine, the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces has said.

Earlier, Ukraine said Russia had begun creating a strike group in the Kryvyi Rih direction and that it could be preparing new offensive operations in southern Ukraine.

The steel-producing city of Kryvyi Rih where Volodymyr Zelensky grew up lies around 30 miles from the southern frontline.

Pavlo Kyrylenko, governor of the Donetsk region, said on the Telegram app that three civilians had been killed in Bakhmut, Maryinka and Shevchenko and five wounded in the past 24 hours.

Governors of the Mykolaiv, Kharkiv, Dnipropetrovsk regions reported that their regions had been shelled overnight, and civilian infrastructure, houses had been damaged.

"The idea is to put military pressure on us in Kharkiv, Donetsk and Luhansk over the next few weeks...What is happening in the east is not what will determine the outcome of the war," Ukrainian Presidential Adviser Oleksiy Arestovych said in an interview appearing on YouTube.

The whole point of the Russian offensive in the east is to force Ukraine to divert troops from the area that is truly a danger - Zaporizhzhia, Mr Arestovych added.

07:00 AM

Russian forces attempt to 'hide bridge' by using pyramidal radar reflectors

Russia has almost certainly positioned pyramidal radar reflectors in the water near the recently damaged Antonivskiy Bridge in a bid to hide it, the UK's Ministry of Defence said.

"The radar reflectors are likely being used to hide the bridge from synthetic aperture radar imagery and possible missile targeting equipment," the ministry wrote on Twitter on Thursday.

"This highlights the threat Russia feels from the increased range and precision of Western-supplied systems."

06:27 AM

Russian pilots told to 'brake less' as spare parts run out

Russian pilots have been told not to brake too much to reduce wear and tear amid a shortage of parts for plane repairs because of western sanctions.

According to internal memos from four Russian airline companies, pilots have been asked to be gentle when braking and taxing.

S7 Airlines has told pilots to use engine reverse thrust and to avoid autobrake mode if the runaway is long enough, the Aviatorshina Telegram channel reported. Pilots were also told they shouldn’t go hard on brakes in order to get off the runaway quickly to make way for other planes.

Read the full story by By Nataliya Vasilyeva here

Western sanctions are forcing airlines to minimise wear and tear to planes - Reuters
Western sanctions are forcing airlines to minimise wear and tear to planes - Reuters

05:04 AM

US Senate votes in favour of Finland and Sweden joining Nato

The US Senate has voted to approve Finland and Sweden's accession to Nato – the most significant expansion of the alliance in nearly 30 years as it responds to Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Voting in the American upper chamber easily surpassed the two-thirds majority of 67 votes required to support ratification of the two countries' membership.

Finland and Sweden were both warned by the Kremlin not to join the alliance.

Nato's 30 members signed the accession protocol for them last month, allowing them to join the US-led nuclear-armed alliance once its members ratify the decision.

The accession now needs to be ratified by the parliaments of all Nato members before Finland and Sweden can be protected by the defence clause stating that an attack on one ally is an attack against all.

03:57 AM

Situation at nuclear plant ‘out of control’

Russia is using Europe’s largest nuclear power plant to shelter from Ukrainian bombardment and launch attacks on civilians, with the United Nations warning the situation is “completely out of control” amid fears of a nuclear disaster, Joe Barnes writes.

Russian forces seized control of the Zaporizhzhia plant, in the south-eastern city of Enerhodar, in early March, soon after the invasion of Ukraine began.

Under mounting pressure from long-range Ukrainian strikes, troops last month ordered the plant’s staff to surrender access to the engine rooms of three of its reactors in order to store heavy weaponry.

Energoatom, Ukraine’s state-run nuclear company, said Russian ammunition had been stored close to highly combustible materials and would trigger a nuclear disaster on the scale of Chernobyl if it was detonated.

Read more: Situation at huge Ukraine nuclear plant ‘out of control’

03:02 AM

Russia 'could attack Zelensky's hometown'

Ukraine said Russia had started creating a military strikeforce aimed at President Volodymyr Zelensky's hometown of Kryvyi Rih.

Ukraine on Wednesday night said Russia was engaged in considerable military activity in the east, northeast and south of the country and warned that Moscow could be preparing new offensive operations in southern Ukraine.

Dmytro Zhyvytsky, governor of Sumy region on the border with Russia, said three towns had been shelled by Russian forces on Wednesday, with a total of 55 missiles fired. There were no injuries, but homes and commercial premises were damaged.

He said eight artillery shells hit residential parts of Krasnopilska community.

01:55 AM

Biden: Vote shows our commitment to Nato

Joe Biden has hailed the vote in the US Senate that earlier on Wednesday night approved Nato membership for Finland and Sweden.

"This historic vote sends an important signal of the sustained, bipartisan US commitment to Nato, and to ensuring our Alliance is prepared to meet the challenges of today and tomorrow," the US president said in a statement.

Joe Biden with Sauli Niinisto, left, the president of Finland, and Magdalena Andersson, the prime minister of Sweden at the White House in May - GETTY IMAGES
Joe Biden with Sauli Niinisto, left, the president of Finland, and Magdalena Andersson, the prime minister of Sweden at the White House in May - GETTY IMAGES

01:26 AM

Zelensky seeks talks with China to end war

Ukraine is seeking an opportunity to speak "directly" with Chinese leader Xi Jinping to help end its war with Russia, President Volodymyr Zelensky said, the South China Morning Post reported on Thursday.

In an interview with SCMP, the Ukrainian leader urged China to use its outsize political and economic influence over Russia to bring an end to the fighting.

"It's a very powerful state. It's a powerful economy … So (it) can politically, economically influence Russia. And China is [also a] permanent member of the UN Security Council," Mr Zelensky told the newspaper.

12:52 AM

US basketball star back in Russian court

US basketball star Brittney Griner returns to a Russian court today as her drugs trial grinds towards a finale that could end with a 10-year prison sentence and a US-Russia prisoner swap for one of the world's most notorious arms dealers.

Griner, a two-time Olympic gold medallist and a Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA) star, was detained at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport on Feb 17 with vape cartridges containing cannabis oil in her luggage.

Cannabis is illegal in Russia for both medicinal and recreational purposes.

The US has said Griner was wrongfully detained and made what Secretary of State Antony Blinken called a "substantial offer" to Moscow to exchange Russian prisoners for American citizens held in Russia, including Griner and former Marine Paul Whelan.

One source familiar with the situation told Reuters that Washington was willing to exchange convicted arms trafficker Viktor Bout, whose life helped inspire the 2005 Hollywood film Lord of War, starring Nicholas Cage.

Griner has been in detention for nearly six months - GETTY IMAGES
Griner has been in detention for nearly six months - GETTY IMAGES

12:29 AM

UN to investigate Ukraine prison killings

The United Nations chief said on Wednesday he is appointing a fact-finding mission in response to requests from Russia and Ukraine to investigate the killings at a prison in a separatist region of eastern Ukraine that the nations accuse each other of carrying out.

Russia claimed that Ukraine's military used US-supplied rocket launchers to strike the prison in Olenivka, a settlement controlled by the Moscow-backed Donetsk People's Republic. Separatist authorities and Russian officials said the attack killed 53 Ukrainian POWs and wounded another 75.

The Ukrainian military denied making any rocket or artillery strikes in Olenivka.

The intelligence arm of the Ukrainian defence ministry claimed in a statement on Wednesday to have evidence that local Kremlin-backed separatists colluded with the Russian FSB, the KGB's main successor agency, and mercenary group Wagner to mine the prison before "using a flammable substance, which led to the rapid spread of fire in the room."

The destroyed prison in Olenivka - AP
The destroyed prison in Olenivka - AP

12:17 AM

One US senator opposes Nato bill

The Senate voted 95 to 1 in favour of Finland and Sweden joining Nato.

The sole opponent was Republican Josh Hawley, who argued that the US has to focus on protecting its homeland but also that Washington should concentrate on the challenge from China rather than Europe.

Senate leader Chuck Schumer said it was a signal of Western unity against Russian aggression.

"This is important substantively and as a signal to Russia: they cannot intimidate America or Europe," Mr Schumer said.

"Putin has tried to use his war in Ukraine to divide the West. Instead, today's vote shows our alliance is stronger than ever."

The US is the 23rd of the 30 Nato countries to formally endorse it so far, after Italy approved it earlier on Wednesday and France on Tuesday. 

Hawley said the US should instead focus on the threat from China - BLOOMBERG
Hawley said the US should instead focus on the threat from China - BLOOMBERG

12:04 AM

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