Rally held in Kyiv’s St. Sophia Square to free civilian hostages

Approximately 100 people attended a rally to call on the release of civilian hostages held captive by Russia on April 7 at Kyiv’s central Saint Sophia Square.

One of the co-organizers was Zmina, a human rights non-profit group, which along with others also called on Russia to free captives of those military and augmenting personnel who defended the now-occupied Azov Sea coastal city of Mariupol, notably the Azovstal steel plant, that was the last bastion of resistance during the Russian siege.

Children whose placards had simple one-word messages were engaged because “they are sincere and display them better,” said Yulia Khrypun, head of the Civilians in Captivity non-profit group.

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Some of the signs read, “despair,” “fear,” “pain,” and “hate,” referring to the unjustified war that has entered its 11th year.

Organizers of the rally staged the political theater to convey the physical and psychological pain suffered by Ukrainians in Russian prisons.

A barred door and a cage with paper pigeons were on display “to call on international organizations to facilitate their [captives] liberation as soon as possible,” Zmina said.

About 28,000 Ukrainian civilians have been held in Russian captivity since the end of February, Ukrainian ombudsman Dmytro Lubinets's office said. Only a few more than 150 have been repatriated since the all-out invasion started in February 2022.

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A young girl holds a placard that reads, "hate," in both Ukrainian and Russian at a rally on Saint Sophia Square in Kyiv on April 7 to draw attention to Ukrainian civilians that Russia holds captive. (zmina.org)

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 An additional 30,000 people are considered missing, his office says as of March 20.

Ukrainian captives, military or civilian, are often held in inhumane conditions, without quality nutrition, medical treatment or hygiene, the Center of Civil Liberties reports.

Civilians taken prisoner by Russia have been subject to “killings, arbitrary detention, and restrictions on freedom of expression,” a March 26 United Nations (UN) report says.

About 700 personnel who defended Mariupol before Russia conquered the Donetsk regional city of Mariupol on May 20, 2022, are still held captive. One hundred of them were freed on March 18 in what was the 51st prisoner swap between Russia and Ukraine since the all-out invasion.

Amid cross-border shelling, Sumy region officials ordered the evacuation of children from 52 settlements

Nearly 300 children are to be evacuated from the northeastern region of Sumy that borders Russia, the Reintegration Ministry announced over the weekend.         

The decision on March 5 was made on grounds of safety, the government body said and the evacuation will be conducted “free,” and the respective ministry provided hotline numbers for residents.

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As one of five regions that border Russia, including Luhansk and Donetsk which have been partially occupied since 2014, civilian targets in Sumy have suffered constant cross-border shelling from Russia since February 2022.

Members of the Coordination Staff on mandatory evacuation of the population under martial law under the chairmanship of Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk made the decision.

Twenty-one separate aerial attacks were launched on the region overnight on April 6, the regional administration announced the following day. Close to 80 explosions were reported in nine population centers.

Sumy Oblast borders the Russian regions of Belgorod, Bryansk and Kursk.

Due to constant bombardment, Ukrainian authorities have been steadily evacuating border-line communities from those areas.

A first responder extinguishes a fire on a passenger vehicle in Sumy on April 7. (Sumy regional Emergencies Services)

Zelensky holds talks with his United 24 fundraising platform ambassadors

Star Wars film franchise actor Mark Hamill (who played the role of Luke Skywalker), and Yale University history Prof. Timothy Snyder, among other notable public figures, took part in a video conference call with President Volodymyr Zelensky as part of the United 24 fundraising platform that he established.

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It took place ahead of the platform’s May 5 biannual anniversary from when it was founded and Zelensky extended an invitation for them to attend a summit, whose members also include US astronaut Scott Kelly [whose identical twin Mark is currently a US Senator (D-AZ) and retired astronaut], Stanford University Prof. Francis Fukuyama and Ukrainian-born actress Ivanna Sakhno.

“Thank you for standing together all this time, throughout this path – the path to victory,” Ukraine’s second war-time president told Washington-based chef José Andrés of World Central Kitchen, who is also part of the platform.

Zelensky continued: “I am very grateful to each of you for your donations, policy of support and your voices being heard all over the world. It is very important."

Country singer Brad Paisley and Ukrainian American actor Liev Schreiber are some of the platform’s other members.

More than $625 million has been raised through United 24 as of April 7 from donors across 110 countries, Zelensky said. Procurement has included various types of drones, electronic warfare systems to counter drones, demining equipment, incubators, ambulances, and money allocated for different reconstruction projects.

Canada provides $2 billion in urgent funding for Kyiv's budget

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Ottawa provided more than $2 billion in budget funding to Kyiv in March to help plug Ukraine’s wartime deficit amid ongoing bombardment as the country withstands a Russian invasion that is entering its 11th year.

It was done when “the US has been unable to step up and provide support for Ukraine,” Canadian Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland told public broadcaster CBC on April 6, “We were there to fill the gap.”

Canadian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland (https://www.pm.gc.ca/en/cabinet/honourable-chrystia-freeland)

Ukraine’s first quarter budget deficit, which runs through March, stood at approximately $5 billion, Forbes reported, citing Treasury Ministry dpublished numbers. The deficit was 23.6 percent of spending, the Interfax news agency reported.

State coffers “received a record of $9 billion of external aid in March,” the news agency said.

The Russian all-out war has caused huge disruptions in the economy. Factories have either been taken over or damaged, and the labor market lacks 4.5 million workers due to a massive exodus abroad, the Economy Ministry says.

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The most critical shortfalls for Kyiv are concentrated in the defense, construction, medical services, agricultural and retail industries.

Zelensky seeks more air defense capabilities for Kharkiv

More air defense capacity is being sought for Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second most populous city, amid incessant Russian airborne attacks, President Volodymyr Zelensky said in his nightly address to the nation.

Seven civilians were killed over the weekend, and 11 injured, as a result of aerial attacks in Ukraine’s largest city nearest to the Russian border.

“This attack on peaceful residents of Kharkiv once again proves that Russia is a terrorist state,” Terekhov wrote on the Telegram messaging application after the first attack.

A high-rise residential building in Kharkiv is seen damaged from Russian bombardment earlier this week. (Courtesy of Kharkiv Mayor Ihor Terekhov)

There is “constant Russian terror” visited upon Kharkiv, Zelensky said in his latest nightly address. “It is quite obvious that the air defense capabilities available to us in Ukraine are not enough, and this is obvious to all our partners as well.”

Ukraine needs 25 additional Patriot air defense systems to blanket the country, the president said in an interview with local media on April 6.

Four civilians were killed and 20 wounded on April 5 in the southern regional capital of Zaporizhzhia.

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