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Putin Declares Victory in Ukraine’s Luhansk Province

Russian President Vladimir Putin declared victory Monday in Ukraine’s eastern Luhansk province as Ukrainian troops retreated from their last stronghold in the city of Lysychansk.  

Moscow’s forces immediately turned their attention to fighting in the adjoining Donetsk province. It is part of the industrialized Donbas region Putin has sought to take control of during his invasion of Ukraine, now in its fifth month, after failing earlier to topple the government of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy or capture the capital, Kyiv.   

Ukraine said Russian forces are now trying to advance on Siversk, Fedorivka and Bakhmut in the Donetsk region, about half of which is controlled by Russia.  

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu reported to Putin in a televised meeting Monday that Russian forces had taken control of Luhansk. In turn, Putin, said that the military units “that took part in active hostilities and achieved success, victory” in Luhansk, “should rest, increase their combat capabilities.”  

Ukraine’s Luhansk governor, Serhiy Haidai, told the Associated Press Monday that Ukrainian forces had retreated from Lysychansk to avoid being surrounded.  

“There was a risk of Lysychansk encirclement,” Haidai said, saying that Ukrainian troops could have remained a while longer but would have potentially sustained too many casualties.

“We managed to do centralized withdrawal and evacuate all injured,” Haidai said. “We took back all the equipment, so from this point withdrawal was organized well.”

The Ukrainian General Staff said that Russian forces, aside from pushing toward Siversk, Fedorivka and Bakhmut, are also shelling of the key Ukrainian strongholds of Sloviansk and Kramatorsk, deeper in Donetsk.

Ukrainian authorities said that on Sunday, six people, including a 9-year-old girl, were killed in the Russian attack on Sloviansk and another 19 people were wounded. Kramatorsk was also shelled Sunday.

The British Defense Ministry intelligence briefing Monday called the conflict in Donbas “grinding and attritional,” and said it is unlikely to change in the coming weeks.

Military analysts said the Russian army has a massive advantage in firepower, but not any significant superiority in the number of troops. Ukraine is hoping to counter the Russian onslaught in Donbas with the ongoing resupply of munitions from Western nations, including the United States.  

Zelenskyy acknowledged the Ukrainian withdrawal from Lysychansk during his nightly video address late Sunday but vowed that the country’s forces will fight their way back.


“If the command of our army withdraws people from certain points of the front where the enemy has the greatest fire superiority, in particular this applies to Lysychansk, it means only one thing: We will return thanks to our tactics, thanks to the increase in the supply of modern weapons,” Zelenskyy said.  

“The fact that we protect the lives of our soldiers, our people, plays an equally important role. We will rebuild the walls, we will win back the land, and people must be protected above all else,” Zelenskyy said.    

Luhansk Governor Haidai told the Reuters news agency there was nothing critical in losing Lysychansk, and that Ukraine needed to win the overall war, not the fight for the city.   

“It hurts a lot, but it’s not losing the war,” he said Monday.   

Recovery plan  

Switzerland is hosting a conference Monday and Tuesday focusing on what it will take to rebuild Ukraine.  

The meeting in Lugano brings together leaders from dozens of countries as well as international organizations and the private sector.  

Ukraine’s ambassador to Switzerland, Artem Rybchenko, said the conference would help produce a roadmap for his country’s recovery.  

Some information for this report came from The Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse.

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Pope Denies Resignation Rumors, Hopes to Visit Kyiv, Moscow

Pope Francis has dismissed rumors he plans to resign anytime soon, and says that he hopes to visit Moscow and Kyiv after traveling to Canada later this month.

Francis also told Reuters in an interview published Monday that the idea “never entered my mind” to announce a planned retirement at the end of the summer, though he repeated he might step down some day as Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI did in 2013.

He revealed that his knee trouble, which has caused him to use a wheelchair for over a month, was caused by a “small fracture” that occurred when he stepped awkwardly while the knee ligament was inflamed.

He said it is “slowly getting better” with laser and magnet therapy.

Francis was due to have visited Congo and South Sudan this week but had to cancel the trip because doctors said he needed more therapy. He said he was on board to travel to Canada July 24-30 and said he hoped to visit Russia and Ukraine sometime thereafter. 

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Australia to Boost Military Aid to Ukraine

Anthony Albanese made a surprise visit to Ukraine Sunday after attending the NATO summit in Madrid. The Australian prime minister lit a candle for civilians buried in a mass grave in the town of Bucha, near the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, where Russian soldiers are accused of committing atrocities. He said Australia shared the community’s desire to seek justice for the victims.  

Albanese also went to Irpin, another town scarred by war, where he spoke to reporters as he saw the devastation.  

“Here we have what is clearly a residential building, another one just behind it, brutally assaulted,” he said. “This is a war crime. It is devastating. These are livelihoods and indeed lives that have been lost.”  

Albanese also met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Australia is sending more military aid to Ukraine, including more than 30 additional armored vehicles and drones.  

Canberra is also imposing additional sanctions and travel bans on 16 Russian government ministers and oligarchs and ending Australian imports of Russian gold.  

Michelle Grattan, chief political correspondent for The Conversation, an online news service, told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. that Prime Minister Albanese’s visit to Ukraine was significant.  

“I think it is very important visit because it does underline the solidarity that Australia is showing in this situation, terrible situation.” said Grattan. “I think that people will welcome this new commitment that the prime minister has made of military equipment.”  

The Australian government is also considering reopening its embassy in Ukraine.  

Albanese joins a long list of world leaders who have visited the country since the Russian invasion began in February.  

He entered Ukraine from Poland, traveling on an armored train. He was shadowed by Ukrainian special forces. Several thousand Ukrainian refugees have been granted temporary asylum in Australia.  

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Ukraine Says Turkey Detained Russian Ship Carrying Ukrainian Grain

Ukraine’s Ambassador to Turkey said Turkish customs officials have detained a Russian cargo ship carrying grain shipped from a Russian-occupied area of Ukraine. 

Ambassador Vasyl Bodnar said Sunday the ship was at the entrance of Turkey’s Karasu port, and that Ukraine hoped Turkish officials would confiscate the grain. 

Ukraine has accused Russia of stealing grain from territories it has taken over since launching its war in Ukraine in late February. 

Ukraine had previously asked Turkey to detain the Russian-flagged Zhibek Zholy cargo ship, according to an official and documents viewed by Reuters.

Russia denies the allegations. 

Some information for this report came from Reuters.

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Zelenskyy Vows to Regain Territory After Russia Captures Lysychansk

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy vowed to win back territory with the help of advanced weapons after his forces withdrew from Lysychansk, the last remaining Ukrainian-held territory in the eastern Luhansk province. 

In his nightly address Sunday, Zelenskyy said Russia was focusing its firepower on the Donbas region in eastern Ukraine, and that Ukrainian forces would respond with long-range weapons supplied by Western allies such as the U High Mobility Artillery Rocket System from the United States. 

“The fact that we protect the lives of our soldiers, our people, plays an equally important role. We will rebuild the walls, we will win back the land, and people must be protected above all else,” Zelenskyy said. 

Ukraine’s military said Sunday it decided to withdraw its remaining fighters from Lysychansk because continuing defense efforts in the face of superior Russian troop numbers and equipment “would lead to fatal consequences.” 

Ukrainian officials have repeatedly urged allies to help bolster its arsenal with more advanced weapons to help them match up against Russia’s military. 

Since failing early in its four-month invasion of Ukraine to topple Zelenskyy or capture the capital, Kyiv, Russia has focused on taking control of the Donbas region, which includes Luhansk and Donetsk provinces. Ukraine retains control of several cities in Donetsk. 

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu informed President Vladimir Putin that the Luhansk People’s Republic — as the pro-Russian separatist government that claims control over Luhansk calls itself — has been “liberated,” Russia’s Defense Ministry said on Telegram.

“As Army General Sergei Shoigu reported, as a result of successful combat operations, the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, together with units of the People’s Militia of the Lugansk People’s Republic, have established full control over the city of Lisichansk and a number of nearby settlements, the largest of which are Belogorovka, Novodruzhesk, Maloryazantsevo and Belaya Gora,” the ministry said in its post, using the Russian spelling of Lysychansk. 

Meanwhile, Russian officials said blasts Sunday in a Russian city bordering Ukraine killed at least three people. 

Dozens of residential buildings were damaged in the explosions in Belgorod. Russian lawmaker Andrei Klishas has called for a military response. 

“The death of civilians and the destruction of civilian infrastructure in Belgorod,” Klishas posted on Telegram, “are a direct act of aggression on the part of Ukraine and require the most severe — including a military — response.” 

Ukrainian officials did not immediately comment on the Russian claims about the Belgorod explosions. 

Recovery plan 

Switzerland is hosting a conference Monday and Tuesday focusing on what it will take to rebuild Ukraine. 

The meeting in Lugano brings together leaders from dozens of countries as well as international organizations and the private sector. 

Ukrainian Ambassador to Switzerland Artem Rybchenko said the conference would help produce a roadmap for his country’s recovery. 

Zelenskyy is expected to address the gathering by video, while Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal made a rare trip outside of Ukraine to attend in person.

Some information for this report came from The Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse.

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Pub Numbers in England, Wales Hit Record Lows, Study Shows

The number of pubs in England and Wales has plunged to its lowest ever level, according to analysis published on Monday which blames the coronavirus pandemic and soaring costs.

In the first half of this year, pub numbers dropped below 40,000 — a fall of more than 7,000 since 10 years ago.

A total of 200 pubs called “last orders” for good from the end of December to the end of last month, real estate advisers Altus Group said.

Pubs, which have been central to British communities for centuries, have either been demolished or converted into homes and offices, it added.

The analysis comes after the pub trade and wider hospitality sector suffered a slump in business due to the series of coronavirus lockdowns and social distancing restrictions.

Throughout the public health crisis, industry bodies urged the government for more financial support to prop up affected businesses and prevent many from going to the wall.

But with inflation now at 40-year highs, pubs have been confronted with a new challenge.

“Whilst pubs proved remarkably resilient during the pandemic, they’re now facing new headwinds grappling with the cost of doing business crisis through soaring energy costs, inflationary pressures and tax rises,” Altus Group UK president Robert Hayton said.

Separate research from industry bodies the British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA), UKHospitality and the British Institute of Innkeeping suggests only about one-third (37%) of hospitality businesses are in profit.

Rising costs of energy, goods and labor were blamed.

BBPA chief executive Emma McClarkin said: “When pubs are forced to close it’s a huge loss to the local community, and these numbers paint a devastating picture of how pubs are being lost in villages, towns and cities across the country.”

She called on the government to act or risk losing more pubs every year.

Britain is facing the prospect of a wave of public sector strikes over pay and conditions, as the cost of living rises.

Pub owners have said a series of walkouts by railway workers have also hit trade.

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Germany, Ireland Tell UK: No Justification for Breaking Brexit Deal

Germany and Ireland on Sunday told Britain there was no legal or political justification for Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s plan to override parts of the Brexit deal governing trade with Northern Ireland.

The British parliament is considering a new law which would unilaterally change customs arrangements between Britain and Northern Ireland that were initially agreed as part of its exit deal from the European Union.

Britain says the changes are necessary to ease the overly burdensome requirements of the divorce deal, designed to prevent goods flowing into EU member Ireland via British province Northern Ireland. Johnson says the checks are creating tensions that threaten the region’s 1998 peace deal.

But, writing in the Observer newspaper, foreign ministers from Germany and Ireland rejected that argument.

“There is no legal or political justification for unilaterally breaking an international agreement entered into only two years ago,” Germany’s Annalena Baerbock and Ireland’s Simon Coveney said.

“The tabling of legislation will not fix the challenges around the protocol. Instead, it will create a new set of uncertainties and make it more challenging to find durable solutions.”

Johnson’s government says its preference remains to find a negotiated solution with the EU, but that Brussels needs to be more flexible to make that possible. The EU says it has put forward a range of possible solutions.

“We urge the British government to step back from their unilateral approach and show the same pragmatism and readiness to compromise the EU has shown,” Baerbock and Coveney said.

The legislation, known as the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill, passed its first parliamentary hurdle last week, but is expected to face stiffer tests before it becomes law with many parliamentarians opposed to breaking a treaty obligation.

It is next due to be debated in parliament on July 13.

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Expelled Russian Diplomats Depart Bulgaria Amid Soaring Tensions

Two Russian airplanes departed Bulgaria on Sunday with scores of Russian diplomatic staff and their families amid a mass expulsion that has sent tensions soaring between the historically close nations, a Russian diplomat said.

Filip Voskresenski, a high-ranking Russian diplomat, told journalists at the airport in Bulgaria’s capital Sofia before the flights left that he was among the 70 Russian diplomatic staff declared “persona non grata” last week and ordered to leave the country by the end of Sunday.

Bulgaria’s expulsion decision was announced by acting-Prime Minister Kiril Petkov, who took a strong stance against Russia after it invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24. Petkov, who lost a no-confidence vote on June 22, has claimed Moscow used “hybrid war” tactics to bring down his government.

Petkov has said that Russia will retain 43 of its employees after the expulsion and noted that Bulgaria has just 12 diplomatic staff in Moscow.

“Anyone who works against the interests of Bulgaria will be called to go back to the country from which they came,” he said.

On Friday, Russian Ambassador Eleonora Mitrofanova issued Bulgaria an ultimatum to reverse its decision and threatened that Moscow would fully sever diplomatic ties.

“I intend to urgently raise before the leadership of my country the issue of the closure of the Embassy of Russia in Bulgaria, which will inevitably lead to the closure of the Bulgarian diplomatic mission in Moscow,” she said in a statement.

The expulsion, which has severely strained diplomatic ties, is the greatest ever number of Russian diplomats expelled by Bulgaria, which has European Union and NATO membership. Bulgaria has strongly backed the West’s sanctions against Moscow since it launched its war on Ukraine more than four months ago.

The European Union, which Bulgaria has been a member of since 2007, responded to Russia’s “unjustified threat” and said it “stands in full support and solidarity with Bulgaria.”

In late April, Russia cut off gas supplies to Bulgaria after officials refused a Moscow demand to pay gas bills in rubles, Russia’s currency. Bulgaria’s defense minister was also ousted in early March for referring to Russia’s war as a “special military operation,” the Kremlin-preferred description.

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Several People Dead in Copenhagen Shopping Mall Shooting

A gunman opened fire in a Copenhagen shopping mall, one of the largest of its kind in Scandinavia, killing an unspecified number of people and wounding several others Sunday, police said.

The suspected gunman, who is in custody, is a 22-year-old Danish man who was detained near the Fields shopping mall on the southern outskirts of the capital, said police inspector Søren Thomassen, head of the Copenhagen police operations unit.

“We know that there are several dead” and “several injured,” Thomassen told a news conference, adding that terrorism can’t be ruled out. “We do not have information that others are involved. This is what we know now.”

He didn’t provide any further details on the victims or suspect or say how many people were killed or wounded. The shopping center is on the outskirts of Copenhagen just across from a subway line that connects the city center with the international airport. A major highway also runs adjacent to Fields, which opened in 2004.

Images from the scene showed people running out of the mall, and Denmark’s TV2 broadcaster posted a photo of a man being put on a stretcher. Witnesses said people were crying and hid in shops.

Laurits Hermansen told Danish broadcaster DR that he was in a clothing store at the shopping center with his family when he heard “three-four bangs. Really loud bangs. It sounded like the shots were being fired just next to the store.”

Copenhagen Mayor Sophie H. Andersen tweeted: “Terrible reports of shooting in Fields. We do not yet know for sure how many were injured or dead, but it is very serious.”

Police said they were first alerted to the shooting at 5:36 p.m. (1536 GMT; 11:36 a.m. EDT). A huge presence of heavily-armed police officers arrived at the scene, with several fire department vehicles also parked outside the mall.

“One person has been arrested in connection with the shooting at Fields. We currently are not able to say more about the person concerned,” Copenhagen police tweeted. “We have a massive presence at Fields and are working on getting an overview.”

A concert by former One Direction band member Harry Styles was scheduled to be held at 8 p.m. (1800 GMT; 2 p.m. EDT) at the nearby Royal Arena. It was unclear whether the concert would go ahead.

On Snapchat, Styles wrote “My team and I pray for everyone involved in the Copenhagen shopping mall shooting. I am shocked. Love H.”

Shortly after the shooting, the royal palace said a reception with Crown Prince Frederik connected to the Tour de France cycling race had been canceled. The first three stages of the race were held in Denmark this year, the palace said in a statement. The reception was due to be held on the royal yacht that is moored in Sonderborg, the town where the third stage ended.

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