Women protest, Ukraine, rape
Women protest in Berlin on April 21, 2022, during a demonstration against violence against women and girls in the Russian war of aggression on Ukraine. Photo credit: © Carsten Koall/dpa via ZUMA Press
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UN: Rape Is Russian Weapon of War 

Along with long-range missile and artillery strikes on civilian targets, Russia appears to be employing sexual assault as a de facto official weapon of war. 

At least 124 instances of sexual violence committed by Russian forces against Ukrainian civilians have been tallied since the war began on February 24, according to a United Nations report published last month. 

Since this figure represents only the victims able or willing to testify to their experiences, the real number may never be known.  

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addressed the rise in instances of sexual violence. He also acknowledged allegations of women disappearing from so-called “filtration camps”: human depots set up by Russia where Ukrainians are “processed” before deportation to Russia. 

“Young women disappear there,” he said. “I believe you all understand what’s happening to them there.”

Russia Has Kidnapped 2 Million Ukranians: Zelenskyy 

At least 2 million Ukrainians — including “several hundred thousand children” — have been forcibly taken to Russia or territories it occupies since the war began, Zelenskyy claimed in an interview with The Guardian.

“No one will name the exact numbers at the moment,” he said. “All these deported people are deprived of means of communication. … They are being intimidated and taken to remote areas of Russia.” 

Kremlin Attempts to Streamline Passports for Ukrainians 

In a related matter, President Vladimir Putin issued a decree to streamline the process of issuing Russian passports to Ukrainians, Al Jazeera reported

All Ukrainians are now eligible to receive fast-tracked Russian passports, without passing otherwise required language requirements and other prerequisites. 

Previously, only citizens of the breakaway eastern republics were eligible for fast-tracked Russian citizenship.

Ukrainian officials decried the move as a violation of international law and an attack on Ukrainian sovereignty.

“Ukrainians do not need Putin’s citizenship and attempts to impose it by force are doomed to failure,” said Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, according to Al Jazeera.

North Korea Recognizes Russia-Aligned Breakaway States

North Korea officially recognized the two breakaway Russia-aligned “People’s Republics” in eastern Ukraine. 

Thus far, the Donetsk and Luhansk people’s republics have been recognized as sovereign states by only Russia and its controlled territories like South Ossetia. 

In response, Ukraine severed its diplomatic ties with North Korea. “We consider this decision as an attempt by Pyongyang to undermine the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine,” a spokesperson for the Ukrainian foreign ministry said.

Experts said the move is low-risk and high-reward for North Korea, already one of the world’s most isolated and sanctioned countries. Pyongyang may be able to enjoy closer relations with Moscow. 

However, there’s one complication: North Korea’s state-run airline flies several Ukrainian-made aircrafts, meaning Kim Jong Un’s regime may have to resort to the illicit market for repairs or spare parts.

Russians Capture Famous Ukrainian Activist, Call Him a Nazi 

Notable Ukrainian anti-racist and anti-fascist campaigner Maksym Butkevych was captured by Russians while fighting in eastern Ukraine on June 24, according to openDemocracy

The Russian army posted a video of his interrogation online. Later posts on Russian-language websites called Butvevych a Nazi, repeating the propaganda line used by Putin to justify invading the country — a label that his family and international observers dismissed as preposterous. 

His work in Ukraine includes co-founding the No Borders Project, as well as working closely with refugees. 

His family has had no contact with him since his capture and fears for his safety, according to reports. Neither his current condition nor his whereabouts are currently known. 

Relief in Sight for Worldwide Food Crisis?

After the massive decline of Ukrainian grain exports sent food prices surging to record highs around the world, hope for relief appeared as Turkey announced the signing of a four-way export deal on Wednesday. 

Ukraine’s importance to the world’s food supply is hard to overstate. The country exports half of the world’s sunflower oil, 10 percent of the world’s wheat, and 16 percent of the world’s corn, along with loads of potatoes and other crops. 

With sea routes blockaded by Russian mines and warships, monthly exports have plummeted by two-thirds, from 6 million tons a month to 2 million tons, according to The Economist

Hulusi Akar, Turkey’s defense minister, told Reuters that a deal that would allow Ukrainian grain to flow again from Black Sea ports could be signed as early as next week. Neither Russia nor Ukraine immediately commented on the deal — and the deal isn’t quite done, observers cautioned. 

UN Secretary-General António Guterres said that “more technical work will now be needed to materialize today’s progress.”

In the past, Russia has asked for the privilege of inspecting ships carrying grain to check for weapons.

In the meantime, limited amounts of food exports are traveling along more expensive and lengthy land routes. 

Just last week, Romania reopened a Soviet-era rail line to help transfer grain out of the conflict zone to European buyers. 

In the meantime, in an eerie echo of World War II, Ukrainians are accusing Russians of deliberately burning crops as a part of their overall war strategy.