Ukraine war: Deported children reunited, more weapons heading to Kyiv
A Ukrainian father whose son and two daughters were "deported" to Russia from occupied Ukraine, were among a group of 17 children returned to their parents in Kyiv.
Denys Zaporojtchenko had not seen his chilren for more than six month.
The family had been living together in Kherson, in the occupied south of Ukraine, when they were separated, on 7 October, a month before Ukrainian forces recaptured the city.
As terrible fighting loomed in Kherson with the Ukrainian counter-offensive, Zaporozhchenko says he agreed to send his children away from the war to "holiday camps" further south in annexed Crimea.
"By the time we realised we shouldn't have done that, it was too late."
Denys' 11-year-old daughter says there were "a lot" of inspections of Russian officials in her camp. "They asked us to sing and dance when there were inspections".
For Ukraine, these children, like at least 16,000 others, were "abducted" by the Russians. Moscow denies this, claiming to have "rescued" them from the war and to have put in place procedures to reunite them with their families.
Myroslava Khartchenko, a lawyer for the Save Ukraine NGO which organised the repatriation of the 17 children, says the Russian authorities used "intimidation, manipulation and blackmail" to seize the children.
For the first time, the association managed to organise a group return to Ukraine. It chartered a bus, taking some of the mothers on board, which made a very long diversions via Poland, Belarus, Russia and then Crimea, as it was not allowed to cross the front line in southern Ukraine.
Since the beginning of the war, 465 children have died, 940 have been injured and 395 are missing as a result of the conflict.
Finland sends three more Leopard demining tanks to Ukraine
Finland will be sending additional, specialised, tanks to Ukraine.
"Finland is delivering three Leopard 2 armoured mine-clearing vehicles," Minister of Derence Antti Kaikkonen told reporters in Helsinki on Thursday.
The tanks, equipped with machine guns instead of the usual cannon, are designed to neutralise mines and other explosive devices.
Meanwhile, the Turkish parliament’s foreign affairs commission approved a bill ratifying Finland’s bid to join NATO on Thursday.
However the bill still needs to be approved by the parliament’s general assembly.
President Erdogan said last week that parliament would ratify Finland’s accession to NATO, though he held off approving Sweden’s bid.
Ukraine receives first Slovak jet fighters
The first four Slovak MiG-29 fighters have been delivered to Ukraine, a Slovak defence ministry spokesperson said on Thursday.
"The first four MiG-29 fighters have been handed over to the Ukrainian armed forces," Martina Kakascikova said in a statement, assuring that the other nine promised aircraft would be delivered "in the coming weeks".
According to the statement, the transfer was carried out "by Ukrainian pilots, with the help of the Slovak Air Force".
Of the 13 Slovak fighters, three will be used to supply spare parts.
Bratislava had earlier said it would also deliver part of the Kub air defence system to Kiev.
Slovakia said on Wednesday it had secured an offer from the United States for more than $1 billion worth of weapons, at a reduced rate, to compensate for its Soviet-designed MiG-29s promised to Ukraine.
The US offer includes 12 new Bell AH-1Z Viper helicopters, with accessories and training for pilots and technicians, as well as over 500 AGM-114 Hellfire missiles.
After Poland, Slovakia is the second Nato member country to have promised aircraft to the country under attack by Russia since February 2022.
Ukraine hasn't confirmed how many MiG-29s it has in service, but according to a Flight Global World Air Forces 2023 report published late last year, it was operating 43 aircraft.
Kyiv has repeatedly asked its Western allies to send it modern fighter-bombers in the hope of obtaining US F-16s.
Bratislava plans to replace its fighter jets with US F-16s by January 2024.
Russia issues arrest warrant for opposition activist
A Russian court on Thursday issued an order to arrest an opposition activist on charges of disparaging the military, and auhorities declared other activists and bloggers “foreign agents” amid efforts to muzzle criticism of Russia's action in Ukraine.
Moscow’s Basmanny District Court ordered the arrest of Maxim Katz, an opposition activist and blogger who has left Russia. He is accused of spreading false information about the Russian military, charges that carry a prison sentence of up to 10 years.
Days after Russian President Vladimir Putin sent troops into Ukraine last February, Russian lawmakers approved legislation outlawing the disparagement of the Russian military or the spread of “false information” about what the Kremlin calls “the special military operation” in Ukraine.
Courts across the country have increasingly handed out prison terms to critics of Moscow’s actions in Ukraine.
They included a prominent opposition politician, Ilya Yashin, who was sentenced to 8½ years in prison on charges of discrediting the military, and another top opposition figure, Vladimir Kara-Murza, who has been jailed on the same charges and is now facing trial.
Katz was declared a “foreign agent” last year, a designation that brings additional government scrutiny and carries strong pejorative connotations. After he left the country, the authorities put him on a wanted list last fall.
The authorities have used the label to raise pressure on independent media and nongovernmental organizations.
On Thursday, the Justice Ministry further expanded the list of “foreign agents," adding leading human rights lawyer Pavel Chikov and popular blogger Ilya Varlamov, among others. Both have been critical of Russia's operation in Ukraine.