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Russia-Ukraine live updates: First UN-chartered ship loaded with Ukrainian wheat set to depart for Africa

ANATOLII STEPANOV/AFP via Getty Images

(NEW YORK) -- Russian President Vladimir Putin's "special military operation" into neighboring Ukraine began on Feb. 24, with Russian forces invading from Belarus, to the north, and Russia, to the east. Ukrainian troops have offered "stiff resistance," according to U.S. officials.

The Russian military has since launched a full-scale ground offensive in eastern Ukraine's disputed Donbas region, capturing the strategic port city of Mariupol and securing a coastal corridor to the Moscow-annexed Crimean Peninsula.

Here's how the news is developing. All times Eastern:

Aug 17, 5:40 PM EDT
Large apartment block struck in Kharkiv, at least 7 dead

At least seven people are dead and another 13 injured by strikes on a large apartment block in Kharkiv, officials said.

Based on recovered shrapnel, authorities determined an Iskander-M missile system was used in the strike, said Ivan Sokol, Ukraine's director of the regional Department of Civil Defense.

Search and rescue efforts are ongoing at the three-story residential building, the State Emergency Service of Ukraine said.

-ABC News' Tatiana Rymarenko

Aug 15, 1:49 PM EDT
Shelling resumes near power plant, both sides claim the other is firing

More shelling was underway Monday in city of Enerhodar, which is under Russian control and where the Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant is located.

Enerhodar Mayor Dmytro Orlov urged residents to stay inside. He said Russian forces seized another government facility in Enerhodar, a lab where 30 of the employees are refusing to cooperate with the Russian-appointed administration.

Meanwhile, Russia's semi-official Interfax reported that Ukrainian forces opened fire in Enerhodar.

Ukraine's state nuclear regulator Energoatom said the plant remained occupied and controlled by Russian forces on Monday. The Ukrainian staff continues to work and make every effort to ensure nuclear and radiation safety, but Energoatom warned that periodic shelling by Russian troops with multiple rocket launchers since last week caused a serious risk to the safe operation of the plant.

-ABC News' Christine Theodorou, Fidel Pavlenko, Natalia Shumskaia and Yulia Drozd

Aug 15, 5:53 AM EDT
Griner to appeal Russian conviction, lawyer says

Brittney Griner’s defense team filed an appeal for the verdict by Khimky City Court, according to Maria Blagovolina, a partner at Rybalkin Gortsunyan Dyakin and Partners law firm.

The WNBA star was found guilty on drug charges in a Moscow-area court this month.

-ABC News' Tanya Stukalova

Aug 14, 4:44 PM EDT
1st UN-chartered ship loaded with Ukrainian wheat set to depart for Africa

The first UN-chartered ship loaded with Ukrainian wheat is set to head for Africa from the near the port city Odesa, Ukrainian officials said Sunday.

The MV Brave Commander is loaded with 23,000 tons of wheat that will be shipped to Ethiopia as part of a mission to relieve a global food crisis caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine that has halted grain exports for months, Ukrainian Infrastructure Minister Alexander Kubrakov announced at a news conference.

Kubrakov said the UN-chartered ship is scheduled to leave the Pivdenny port near Odesa on Monday.

"When three months ago, during the meeting of the President of Ukraine (Volodymyr) Zelenskyy and the U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in Kyiv the first negotiations on unlocking Ukrainian maritime ports began, we have already seen how critical it is becoming a food situation in the world." Kubrakov wrote in a Facebook post on Sunday. "This especially applies to the least socially protected countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America, for whom Ukraine has always been a key importer of agro-production."

He said Ethiopia is in desperate need of Ukrainian grain.

"This country has been suffering from record drought and armed confrontation for the second year in a row," Kubrakov said. "Ukrainian grain for them without exaggeration -- the matter of life and death."

He said he hopes the MV Brave Commander will be the first many more grain shipments under the U.N. World Food Program.

Aug 12, 2:28 PM EDT
'They treat us like captives': Exiled Zaporizhzhia manager on conditions at plant

An exiled manager at the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant told ABC News that the Ukrainian staff is treated "like captives."

Oleg, who asked to be referred by a pseudonym, said he felt threatened by the Russian soldiers.

"They didn't say, 'I'm going to shoot you now,' but they always carry guns and assault rifles with them," said Oleg, who managed one of 80 units at the plant but was able to leave last month. "And when an assault rifle or a gun has a cocked trigger, I consider it as a threat."

Amid reported shelling in the vicinity of the plant, Oleg said he was primarily concerned about its spent fuel containers, "which are in a precarious position, and they are not shielded well."

-ABC News Dragana Jovanovic, Britt Clennett, Nataliya Kushnir and Sohel Uddin

Aug 11, 4:43 PM EDT
UN secretary-general calls for all military activities around nuclear power plant to 'cease immediately'

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is "calling for all military activities" around the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Plant in southern Ukraine "to cease immediately," and for armies not "to target its facilities or surroundings."

Ukraine's nuclear regulator Energoatom said Russian forces shelled the plant for a third time on Thursday, hitting close to the first power unit. Earlier on Thursday, Energoatom said five rockets struck the area around the commandant's office, close to where the radioactive material is stored.

Yevgeny Balitsky, the Russian-installed interim governor of Zaporizhzhya Oblast, issued a statement claiming Ukrainian forces struck the plant, hitting close to an area with radioactive material.

Guterres said he's appealed to all parties to "exercise common sense" and take any actions that could endanger the physical integrity, safety or security of the largest nuclear power plant in Europe.

"Instead of de-escalation, over the past several days there have been reports of further deeply worrying incidents that could, if they continue, lead to disaster," he said, adding that he’s "gravely concerned."

Rafael Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, pleaded with the U.N. Security Council Thursday to allow for an IAEA mission to visit the plant as soon as possible. He said the situation at the plant is deteriorating rapidly and is "becoming very alarming."

-ABC News' Christine Theodorou, Fidel Pavlenko, Natalya Kushnir and Natalia Shumskaia

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Forest fires destroyed nearly 23 million acres of land in 2021, and it's expected to get worse, experts say

Lucas Ninno/Getty Images

(NEW YORK) -- The planet continues to experience a massive loss in forest land as the world warms and allows severe wildfires to run rampant in regions spanning the globe.

Overall, forest fires are getting worse worldwide, according to a new report released Wednesday by Global Forest Watch, a forest monitoring platform led by the World Resources Institute. The data captures stand-replacing fires, which kill all or most of the living overstory trees in a forest, and includes wildfires, escaped fires from human activities such as agriculture and hunting and intentionally set fires that result in tree cover loss.

Tree cover loss due to fires is now twice as high as it was in 2001, with forest fires destroying about 7.4 million more acres of land -- an area roughly the size of Belgium -- last year compared to the turn of the century, according to the researchers, who analyzed two decades of fire data from the Global Land Analysis and Discovery Lab at the University of Maryland.

Forest fires also accounted for more than 25% of all tree cover loss in that past 20 years, with 2021 ranking as the second-worst fire season on record due to unprecedented damage to boreal forests in the Northern Hemisphere, according to the report.

About 70% of all fire-related tree cover loss over the past 20 years has occurred in those boreal forests, likely due to warming temperatures in northern, high-latitude regions, the researchers said.

Nearly 23 million acres of land -- an area the size of Thailand or roughly 16 soccer pitches per minute -- were scorched globally last year, according to the report. The rate of tree cover loss due to fire is increasing by about 568,000 acres -- roughly 4% -- every year.

In tropical forests, which are moist and wet environments, stand-replacing fires were historically rare events. However, fire loss in the tropics is increasing about 5% per year, which is an annual increase of about 89,000 acres, the experts said. Almost all fires that occur in the tropics are started by people, such as escaped fires from agriculture and land cleaning.

The top five countries that experienced tree cover loss over the past 20 years were Russia, at 131 million acres; Canada, at 66.7 million acres; the U.S., at 29.7 million acres; Brazil, at 23.5 million acres; and Australia, at 15.6 million acres. Extreme weather caused a significant spike in bush fire activity in Australia from 2019 to 2020.

Climate change is likely the major driver of increasing fire activity, the researchers said. A "climate feedback loop" has occurred in which rising temperatures create drier conditions, causing more forest area to burn, which then release even more carbon into the atmosphere.

The obliteration of forests could further hinder efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate global warming.

Forests are critical to Earth's ecology for their ability to capture and store carbon out of the atmosphere, alter the air quality and quantity of drinking water and provide habitat for the world's land species.

But longer fire seasons and an increase in fire frequency could turn some forests into a net source of carbon emissions, releasing more carbon than they are absorbing, which poses a long-term threat to countries' ability to uphold commitments under the Paris Agreement, which aims to limit global temperature rise to less than 2 degrees Celsius since the Industrial Revolution.

The cause of increasing forest fires are complex and vary significantly by geography, the researchers said, adding that there is no "silver bullet" to reversing the trend of increasing tree cover loss due to fires.

In addition, there is no solution to bring fire activity back down from historic levels without drastically reducing greenhouse gas emissions and breaking the fire-climate feedback loop, according to the analysis. Human activity in and around forests is also making them more susceptible to wildfires, especially in the tropics.

ABC News' Tracy Wholf contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Worker at Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant warns of potential catastrophe

Westend61/Getty Images

(ZAPORIZHZHIA, Ukraine) -- As Russia and Ukraine trade accusations over attacks on Europe's largest nuclear power plant, a worker there told ABC News he fears not only for the safety of his family but also the world.

"If something happens to the spent fuel storage, the consequences could be the same as Chernobyl," the worker, who spoke to ABC News on condition of anonymity, warned during an interview in the southeastern Ukrainian city of Zaporizhzhia on Tuesday.

The Ukrainian man, who is an engineer at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant near the town of Enerhodar, said he plans to return to work soon out of a sense of duty to his country, despite his wife urging him to quit. He described how the Russian soldiers at the plant "are always armed and wear balaclavas."

"If they don't like the look of you, they can yell at you," he said. "I've heard that some people were beaten."

Shortly after invading neighboring Ukraine on Feb. 24, Russian troops stormed the Zaporizhzhia plant, on the banks of the Dnipro River in the country's southeast. The Ukrainian workers have been left in place to keep the plant operating, as it supplies electricity across the war-torn nation.

"If everyone leaves the station, who will work there? We need to help Ukraine," the engineer told ABC News.

However, heavy fighting around the site has fueled fears of a catastrophe, like what happened at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in northern Ukraine over 36 years ago.

On April 26, 1986, a reactor at the Chernobyl plant, about 65 miles north of Kyiv, exploded and spewed enormous amounts of radioactive material into the atmosphere, forcing more than 100,000 people within a 1,000-square-mile radius to evacuate. It remains the world's worst nuclear accident.

Russian forces seized the now-defunct Chernobyl plant and the vast, surrounding radioactive area soon after launching the invasion but ceded control of the facility to Ukrainian troops when they withdrew from the area at the end of March.

Meanwhile, skirmishes between Russian and Ukrainian forces near the Zaporizhzhia plant caused a fire to break out at a training complex there in early March. On Aug. 5, shelling at the site resulted in several explosions near the electrical switchboard, causing a power shutdown, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the nuclear watchdog of the United Nations.

Last week, IAEA Director-General Rafael Mariano Grossi warned that the situation at the Zaporizhzhia plant has deteriorated rapidly to the point of becoming "very alarming" and the agency's technical experts must be allowed to visit the area to address mounting safety concerns.

On Wednesday, in his nightly address, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Russian troops must "immediately" withdraw from the Zaporizhzhia plant and nearby areas "without any conditions."

"Any radiation incident at the Zaporizhzhia NPP can affect the countries of the European Union, Turkey, Georgia and countries from more distant regions. Everything depends solely on the direction and speed of the wind," Zelenskyy warned. "If Russia's actions cause a catastrophe, the consequences may also hit those who remain silent so far."

The Ukrainian president also accused Russia of using "the cover of the plant" to launch strikes on nearby Ukrainian-controlled territories and storing troops, weapons and equipment in its facilities. Russia has denied the allegations and accused Ukrainian forces of repeatedly firing on the site.

If shelling hits the spent fuel storage at the Zaporizhzhia plant, the engineer told ABC News "it might be like another Chernobyl," as radioactive material will leak and contaminate the environment.

"Every day, the Russians come closer and closer to the unit, shellings are closer and closer," he said. "There is no order or stability."

ABC News' Morgan Winsor contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Pyongyang fires two cruise missiles as South Korean president marks 100th day in office

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(SEOUL, South Korea) -- North Korea fired two cruise missiles on Wednesday as South Korea's president marked his 100th day in office.

Pyongyang has test-fired its missile system 19 times this year alone, including the latest launch of two cruise missiles Wednesday morning, as intelligence in the U.S. and South Korea has confirmed that North Korea is prepared to conduct its seventh nuclear test.

South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol said on Wednesday at a press conference that if North Korea expresses a “steady will” to denuclearize, an "audacious" economic booster program could be on offer from the South but said that talks between the two Koreas will not take place unless it is to establish a substantive and long-lasting peace.

Unlike the previous pro-North government, Yoon’s new administration has taken a more aggressive approach to North Korea’s military provocations in the past 100 days.

When North Korea fired eight ballistic missiles from four different regions in the country, South Korea and the U.S. joint forces fired eight surface-to-surface missiles as a countermeasure the following day.

The joint forces are now gearing up for the 10-days-long Ulchi Freedom Shield joint military exercise which is set to begin next Monday.

Public sentiment in South Korea has broadly indicated that, with no end in sight regarding the easing of tensions between the two nations, it might make sense for South to go nuclear itself.

“Those who assert that South Korea should develop its own nuclear weapons point out the unequal, threatening fact that North Korea has it and South Korea does not,” Kim Hyung-suk, president of the Council on Diplomacy for Korean Unification, told ABC News. “But it’s only an instantaneous idea. There are numerous restraints to actualize a South Korea-made nuclear weapons program.”

According to a public opinion poll report by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, 71% out of 1,500 people surveyed said that they are in favor of South Korea developing its own nuclear weapon while just 26% percent were against the idea.

Asked by ABC News whether he agrees with such sentiments, Yoon said he remains committed to the Non-Proliferation Treaty which he referred to as an “essential prerequisite for lasting world peace.”

Yoon, however, is currently facing strong disapproval ratings in South Korea due to domestic political conflicts within his own party, a majority opposition in the National Assembly, and several scandals coming from within his own cabinet. Yoon apologized to South Korean's on Wednesday for these issues and pledged to “listen” to the people with “modesty.”

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Former U.S. ambassador is 'optimistic' on Griner, Whelan prisoner exchange

ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- The saga of WNBA star Brittney Griner continued Monday after her attorneys filed an appeal over her conviction and nine-year Russian prison sentence for drug possession.

The move comes as U.S. officials continue to seek a prisoner transfer for her and fellow captive American Paul Whelan.

ABC News Live spoke with Bill Richardson, a former U.S. ambassador to the U.N., who has been a frequent emissary in hostage negotiations through the Richardson Center for Global Engagement, about the latest developments.

ABC NEWS LIVE: Let's start with the news of Griner's team filing an appeal. I'm curious, does that have any impact, you think, on diplomatic talks for a prisoner exchange to bring Griner and fellow detained American Paul Whelan home?

RICHARDSON: Well, indirectly, it basically says the legal process is over except for the appeal, and it's reasonable to have this appeal [for a] nine-year sentence in a penal conflict. Now, there can be negotiations between the United States and Russia. Both seem disposed.

There's been a prisoner exchange about two months ago, Trevor Reed, that I was indirectly involved in. I think the legal team of Brittney Griner has been effective [in] showing contrition, acknowledgment of the mistake and now the appeal. And I think…this potential return date from the American side is very important to [Russian President Vladimir] Putin. So I think both sides are moving in the right direction and I'm optimistic.

ABC NEWS LIVE: All right. You've just described yourself as a catalyst in these talks that are taking place at a government-to-government level between the U.S. and Russia. We know you traveled to Russia ahead of the release, as you mentioned, of American Trevor Reed earlier this spring. Have you or can you say or will you be traveling to Russia ahead of any release, potential release of Griner and Whelan?

RICHARDSON: Well, no, I can't get into that information. But what I can tell you is that I talked to both sides. I talked to the White House. I talked to the Russians. I have contacts in the Russian government. When I was U.N. ambassador, for instance, the foreign minister [Sergey] Lavrov was my counterpart. I have others that I dealt with as secretary of energy. So I'm not a replacement for the negotiations, [or] some kind of an interlocutor indirectly.

So I don't want to get into too many of these facets, but I've had experience. And I think…both sides are moving in the right direction because they've done it before, despite the fact that the relationship between the United States and Russia is toxic. Totally toxic.

ABC NEWS LIVE: Yeah, we understand that, and of course, appreciate it and would not want to jeopardize any future release. But I am curious about this. Russian officials have criticized the U.S. for openly discussing the offers on the table, but they did confirm this weekend that detained Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout is the name at the center of negotiations. You spoke to our George Stephanopoulos about this a little bit -- a week or so ago. [Is there] any concern here that these talks could break down for any reason, including the U.S. being too public with that information? In other words, would you [have] preferred that America didn't throw his name out there?

RICHARDSON: Well, I question that because I think private diplomacy is a lot better, but obviously the negotiations weren't going too well. So what the U.S. did was when things aren't going well, you kind of throw a little bit of a bomb. And so far, I think it's moved in the right direction. Now, eventually, I think it's not going to be a two-for-one deal. I think it's going to be a two-for-two.

The Russians obviously probably will want more, but you never know. Again, humanitarian issues like prisoner exchanges, like this agreement on grain and fertilizer that the U.N. broke…are steps in the right direction on the humanitarian front that eventually might help in a very toxic relationship between us and the Russians.

ABC NEWS LIVE: So you just used the word optimistic. I'm going to see if I can push a little bit further. Are you confident that a deal can get done here? And if so, any idea about a timeline without giving anything away? Or are we talking weeks, months, [a] year?

RICHARDSON: Well, you don't want to get into a timeline. I know the families are suffering. I think it was a great effort to combine them. An American Marine, a basketball star. We want both, but I think the Russians will want parity. So I'm optimistic because it was done before.

And I think Brittney Griner's attorneys have handled this well. And lastly, I think both sides want it. Obviously, the president wants to get his prisoners back and Putin wants to get his prisoner back, especially Bout, who was politically very important. So there's [a] political reality here. So I'm optimistic.

ABC NEWS LIVE: You mentioned the families. Let's touch on that a little bit. I think when people talk about situations like this, they want to know what each government is doing. But I think sometimes lost in the translation are the families that have been dealing with this for however long they have been in each individual case. You've written books on it. Obviously, there's an empathy there that you have. How do you tell the families to have patience in any kind of meaningful way during these negotiations?

RICHARDSON: Well, first, Mickey Bergman, who specializes in dealing with the families, handles that for our foundation.

We worked for the families, my foundation. We don't work for the government. We don't take orders from the government, either. The families work closely with us. We help them. We advise them. We don't try to lift their spirits when there's little, but then we move in directly into negotiation.

So that's different from other groups that do very excellent in hostage diplomacy. But we get right in there and try to make things happen. We're not replacing the government. Eventually, the U.S. government has to make the decision. The president, who I think [is] handling this well for a prisoner exchange. And as you know, prisoner exchanges have been criticized in the media and in the public.

ABC NEWS LIVE: You mentioned this a little earlier on that, of course, this is happening with the backdrop of this Russia-Ukraine war. How does that complicate negotiations? You've done this time and time again, but now there's a war involved in this one, [and] Russia is not happy with America for supplying aid and weapons to Ukraine. So how does that complicate this?

RICHARDSON: Well, it complicates things a lot because the relationship between our leaders or secretary of states or presidents is almost nonexistent. But there are channels like our private channels, like our embassy in Moscow. So there are ways that we talk, but it complicates things. But usually, governments before, they better the relationship.

In this case [it's] a very toxic relationship. Sometimes humanitarian efforts like a prisoner exchange, like the release of human rights prisoners, like the spring deal, the fertilizer deal between Russia [and] Ukraine brokered by the U.N., are steps that might lessen the tension and improve a very bad relationship.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


A fatwa against author Salman Rushdie led to more than 30 years of terror: a timeline

Sean Zanni/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images

(LONDON and CAIRO) -- Since 1989, when the Iranian supreme leader of the time, Ayatollah Khomeini, issued an apostasy fatwa against the Indian-British Salman Rushdie, it has not been just the "The Satanic Verses" author who has been threatened and attacked.

Multiple writers, translators and publishers have been targeted around the world by extremists with links to this fatwa, which included a religious death warrant for "all the editors and publishers" of the novel who were "aware of its contents."

Rushdie was hospitalized after being stabbed multiple times in New York on Friday, about 33 years after the fatwa was issued.

Rushie's agent and family released statements Sunday saying he has a long road ahead but is improving and is off a ventilator. The stabbing marked the latest violent attack on people who were targeted around the world with direct and indirect links to the fatwa.

Ettore Capriolo

Ettore Capriolo, an English literature expert who had translated "The Satanic Verses" into Italian, was stabbed multiple times on July 4, 1991, in Milan, Italy. He survived the attack.

Talking to the local press, Capriolo said he had forgotten about "The Satanic Verses" translation and had moved on to other works when received a message from a young man saying he was from the Iranian embassy with a translation proposal.

A few days later, the man showed up at Capriolo's house. As they sat for a chat about the proposal, the guest asked him for Rushdie's address. The translator said he didn't know it. As the young man was leaving, he turned and punched Capriolo in the face before stabbing him several times, local media reported.

The attacker was never arrested, and the only comment from the Iranian embassy at the time was that they did not know anyone named Capriolo and they had never searched for him, local media reported.

Hitoshi Igarashi

Eight days later, a 44-year-old Japanese scholar, Hitoshi Igarashi, was found stabbed to death at his office on July 12, 1991, at Tsukuba University in Tokyo.

A year and a half earlier, Igarashi and his publisher Gianni Palma held a press conference in Tokyo to announce their translation of Rushdie's work. Midway through the session, a Pakistani Muslim took over the stage and attempted to assault Palma. The attacker was arrested and reportedly deported afterward.

Aziz Nesin

Turkish writer and humorist Aziz Nesin started translating "The Satanic Verses" in the early 1990s. In May 1993, Nesin published excerpts from the controversial novel in the newspaper Aydinlik.

The move, along with some of his speeches led to riots in Istanbul by Islamic fundamentalists who denounced Nesin for “spreading atheism.”

A few months later, on July 2, 1993, a mob reportedly organized by Islamists gathered around the Madimak Hotel in the Anatolian city of Sivas, where a cultural festival was taking place, to protest the presence of Nesin, according to The New York Times. They reportedly set the hotel on fire. Nesin and many other guests escaped, but at least 37 people were killed, according to multiple reports.

William Nygaard

Publisher William Nygaard, who had put out a Norwegian translation of Rushdie's novel, was shot three times outside his home on Oct. 11, 1993, in Holmenkollen, Norway. He survived the attack, but was hospitalized for months.

Both Nygaard and the translator of the novel, Kari Risvik, had received death threats before the attack, according to local reports.

Twenty-five years later, in October 2018, Norway's National Criminal Investigation Service said two people were charged with attempted murder; one from Iran and one connected to Lebanon.

Naguib Mahfouz

Egyptian writer and Nobel Prize laureate for literature Naguib Mahfouz was stabbed in the neck by a Muslim extremist outside his Cairo home on Oct. 15, 1994.

He survived the injuries, but his right hand was paralyzed afterward, according to The New York Times.

Mahfouz had denounced the fatwa against Rushdie, saying that "the veritable terrorism of which he is a target is unjustifiable, indefensible."

The controversy around "The Satanic Verses," had revived criticisms against Mahfouz's novel "Children of Our Alley." The book, published in 1959, had been deemed blasphemous by some, including extremist cleric Abdel-Rahman, known as "the blind sheikh." If Mahfouz had been killed 30 years ago, Rushdie would not have appeared, Abdel-Rahman said in an interview with Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Nabaa.

"Nobody can force any piece of literature on art on anyone; people choose whatever they want to read," Ibrahim Abdel-Meguid, an Egyptian writer, told ABC News. "Such fatwas should stay away from literature and arts."

Denying any effects of such fatwas on the readership of literary books in the long term, Abdel-Meguid said that "the intended aim of such attacks is never achieved."

"In the contrary," he added, "they encourage people to read the books which these extremists regard as blasphemous."

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Afghanistan one year later

Nava Jamshidi/Stringer via Getty Images

(KABUL) -- It's exactly one year since the Taliban took control of Afghanistan’s capital of Kabul, barring most women from having jobs, and all girls from seeking more than a sixth grade education.


While the militants are celebrating what they call “Independence Day” on the streets of Kabul, a small group of women were protesting in the streets. Some were beaten by the Taliban for doing so.


ABC News Chief Foreign Correspondent Ian Pannell sat down with Abdul Qahar Balkhi, a Taliban spokesman, who denies women and girls are being oppressed.


“Women are being given their rights… each society interprets rights of human beings, men, women, children, neighbors, the planet, animals, differently,” he claims.


Pannell reports that more than 90% of Afghans no longer have enough to eat. He says one year after America’s withdrawal lapsed into chaos Afghanistan is isolated, sadder and hungrier than ever.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Meghan Markle to deliver keynote address at One Young World Summit in UK next month

Chris Jackson/Getty Images, FILE

(LONDON) -- Prince Harry and Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, are heading back to Europe in September.

The couple, who support several charities, will attend the One Young World 2022 Manchester Summit in the United Kingdom on Sept. 5, the Invictus Games Düsseldorf 2023 One Year to Go on Sept. 6 in Germany and the WellChild Awards on Sept. 8 in the U.K., according a spokesperson for the Duke and Duchess of Sussex.

In an Instagram post, One Young World announced that Meghan will be delivering a keynote address at the summit's opening ceremony. The organization also shared that Meghan and Harry will be meeting with a group of summit delegates "doing outstanding work on gender equality."

The organization holds a special place in the duchess' heart. She served as a counsellor for its summit in Dublin in 2014 and also during its summit in Ottawa, Ontario, in 2016. One Young World noted how the Duchess of Sussex has continued to support One Young World ambasssadors, particularly those working for equal rights for women and girls.

"When I was asked to be a Counsellor at One Young World my response was a resounding yes!" Meghan said in a statement shared by the group. "One Young World invites young adults from all over the world who are actively working to transform the socio-political landscape by being the greater good."

The Invictus Games Düsseldorf and WellChild also shared their excitement on social media about the duke and duchess attending their events. More information will be announced in the coming weeks, the organizations each said.

The One Young World Summit will be Harry and Meghan's third time back in the U.K. this year, since they stepped down as senior working royals in 2020.

In April, they retuned to the U.K. together and made a private visit to Queen Elizabeth on their way to the Netherlands for the Invictus Games. The couple then came back to the U.K. in June for the queen's Platinum Jubilee.

Prince Harry and Meghan currently live in California with their two children, Archie and Lilibet Diana Mountbatten-Windsor.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Norway euthanizes Freya the walrus, who drew crowds to Oslo Fjord

Tor Erik Schrder/NTB/AFP via Getty Images

(OSLO, Norway) -- A 1,300-pound walrus that became a popular attraction in Norway in recent weeks was euthanized on Sunday, after officials concluded the marine mammal posed a risk to humans.

Increasingly large crowds of people came to the Oslo Fjord to see the female walrus, named Freya, who climbed onto small boats to sunbathe. After warning the public to stay away, the Norwegian government made the decision to have Freya put down early Sunday.

"Through on-site observations the past week it was made clear that the public has disregarded the current recommendation to keep a clear distance to the walrus," Norway's Directorate of Fisheries said in a statement. "Therefore, the Directorate has concluded, the possibility for potential harm to people was high and animal welfare was not being maintained."

The head of the directorate, Frank Bakke-Jensen, said several possible solutions, including moving Freya, were considered but were ultimately deemed not viable.

"There were several animal welfare concerns associated with a possible relocation," Bakke-Jensen said in a statement Sunday. "We have sympathies for the fact that the decision can cause reactions with the public, but I am firm that this was the right call. We have great regard for animal welfare, but human life and safety must take precedence."

When Freya arrived in the Oslo Fjord last month, the directorate said officials were closely monitoring the walrus and were preparing to relocate her if possible. They said they hoped she would leave of her own accord.

"Neither the Directorate of Fisheries nor researchers we are in contact with recommend culling. It is therefore currently not applicable, and other options are being considered," the directorate said in a statement on July 20.

At that time, Freya was "doing well, taking food, resting" and appeared "to be in good condition," according to the directorate.

"The conditions around her are calm, with few cases of close human encounters," the directorate said in another statement on July 25. "Walruses do not normally pose a danger to humans as long as you keep your distance. However, when it is disturbed by humans and does not get the rest it needs, it may feel threatened and attack. Nearby people can provoke dangerous situations."

Walruses are a protected species in Norway. They're native to the Arctic Circle. It's unusual -- though not unheard of -- for them to travel farther south. Last year, a walrus named Wally was spotted on Valentia Island in Ireland.

ABC News' Christine Theodorou contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Iranian official says Salman Rushdie and his fans are to blame for attack

David M. Benett/Dave Benett/Getty Images

(LONDON) -- The Iranian government on Monday denied that its officials were responsible for the attack on Salman Rushdie, saying the government hadn’t previously heard of the man who allegedly stabbed the author on Friday.

"No one has the right to accuse Iran," Nasser Kanaani, spokesperson for the Iranian Foreign Ministry, said in his weekly press conference on Monday, adding that Iran was not previously aware of the alleged attacker.

"We know nothing about this person more than what we heard from the American media,” Kanaani said.

Rushdie, an Indian-British citizen, was stabbed last week during a lecture event in New York. Police identified the suspect as Hadi Matar, 24, who was charged with attempted murder in the second degree and assault in the second degree.

In 1989, Iran’s then-Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini issued an apostasy fatwa over the author’s novel “The Satanic Verses.” The book was partly inspired by the life of Muhammad, the prophet of Islam. Iranian leaders and others accused Rushdie of blasphemy.

"Salman Rushdie exposed himself to the public anger by insulting Islamic sacred topics and crossing red lines of both over 1.5 billion Muslims and red lines of followers of all divine religions,” Kanaani said on Monday. “All of them were offended by someone insulting a divine prophet."

"In attacking [Rushdie], no one deserves condemnation except of [Rushdie] himself and his supporters,” Kanaani said.

The Iranian foreign minister in 1998 said that the country had dropped Rushdie's death threat, but the current supreme leader of the country, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final say in the country's political decision-making and issuing of religious decrees, confirmed multiple times, including in 2017, that the fatwa was still valid.

Rushdie was taken off a ventilator and was on the “road to recovery,” his literary agent, Andrew Wiley, said on Sunday.

Prior to Iran’s official reaction, local media appeared to express some contentment that Rushdie had been stabbed. Iran Daily, which often reflects the government's perspective, ran a story under the headline: "Satan's neck under the blade."

Another newspaper, Keyhan, whose managing editor was appointed by Iran's leader, congratulated the man who allegedly stabbed Rushdie, calling him "courageous." It called for "a kiss on his hand who tore the neck of God's enemy with a knife."

Another newspaper printed a front-page story with the headline "Satan on the Path to Inferno,” which ran with a picture of Rushdie on a stretcher being wheeled away.

Public opinion on the stabbing may differ from the official perspective, according to one source who spoke with ABC News on Monday.

“This is a clear attack not just on a great writer but to the freedom of speech. Such acts must stop,” said Sarah, an Iranian student in sociology, who asked that her last name be withheld for her safety. “I am so happy that Rushdie survived and is on the path to recovery and the extremists failed doing what they wanted.”

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Americans among 8 injured in bus shooting in Jerusalem

Ahmad Gharabli/AFP via Getty Images

(NEW YORK) -- Eight people, including at least five Americans, were wounded when a gunman opened fire on a bus in Jerusalem early Sunday, the Israeli Foreign Ministry said.

Among those injured in the attack was a pregnant woman, who was forced to deliver her baby in an emergency room, officials said.

"Last night, a terrorist shot at a bus in Jerusalem wounding eight people, including a pregnant 30-year-old woman and a 60-year-old man who are in critical care," the ministry said on Twitter. "We pray for their full recovery. This attack on Israel's capital, a city sacred to all three religions, must be condemned."

At least five U.S. citizens were injured in the attack, a U.S. Embassy spokesperson confirmed to ABC News.

The attack occurred early Sunday near the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City, authorities said. The shooting happened as the bus was waiting for passengers in a parking lot near the Western Wall, one of the holiest sites in Judaism where Jews from around the world make pilgrimages to pray.

The bus driver, Daniel Kanyevski, told local news media outlets that he was parked near the Tomb of King David waiting for worshippers to return from praying at the Western Wall when the gunfire erupted.

"We opened the ramp for someone on a wheelchair, and then the shooting started," Kanyevski told news reporters. "Everyone got down on the floor, screaming. I tried to escape, but the bus couldn't drive with the ramp open."

Israeli police launched a search for the suspected shooter, who later surrendered to authorities, officials said.

A New York Police Department overseas liaison identified the suspected gunman as Amir Sidawi, a 22-year-old Palestinian who lives in East Jerusalem.

Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid issued a statement condemning the attack.

"Jerusalem is our capital city and a tourist center for all religions," Lapid said in his statement, adding that Israeli security forces would "restore calm."

The U.S. State Department also issued a statement Sunday denouncing the attack.

"The United States strongly condemns the terrorist attack outside the Old City of Jerusalem that wounded at least eight victims, including at least five U.S. citizens. We wish all the victims a speedy recovery. We remain in close contact with our Israeli partners and stand firmly with them in the face of this attack," the U.S. State Department said, adding that it "has no higher priority than the safety and security of U.S. citizens overseas."

While a motive for the attack was not immediately clear, it came during a tense week between Israel and Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank.

Last weekend, Israeli aircraft launched an offensive in the Gaza Strip targeting the militant group Islamic Jihad and setting off three days of fierce cross-border fighting. Islamic Jihad fired hundreds of rockets during the flare-up to avenge the airstrikes, which killed two of its commanders and other militants.

Israel said the attack was meant to thwart threats from the group to respond to the arrest of one of its officials in the occupied West Bank.

Two of the victims from Sunday morning's attack are listed in serious condition at Shaarei Tsedek Hospital in Jerusalem, a hospital spokesperson told ABC News.

The hospital spokesperson said an American citizen in his 50s or 60s suffered gunshot wounds to his neck and upper back and was among those in serious condition. Two other Americans were treated at the hospital for mild to moderate injuries and released, the spokesperson said.

The pregnant woman wounded in the attack was undergoing surgery and is expected to survive, but is facing a long recovery process, the hospital spokesperson said. Her baby was delivered alive and doctors were doing their best to save the newborn, the spokesperson said.

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul posted a statement on Twitter, saying some of the Americans injured in the attack were from New York state.

"I'm horrified by the terror attack in Jerusalem, and by the news that a family of New Yorkers has been impacted," Hochul tweeted, adding that her staff has been in contact with the U.S. State Department and offered to assist those injured.

"We condemn terror and stand with the Israeli people as they seek peace," Hochul said.

Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., spoke about the shooting during an unrelated news conference Sunday. He said three of the people injured are from the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn, including a man he identified as Shia Hersh Glick. Schumer said friends of Glick told him he was trying to protect his family when he was shot.

"He was very brave," Schumer said. "He bent down over his family to protect them. He was shot in the neck and they had him on a respirator, but it looks like his condition is improving. His son was shot in the arm as he protected his son."

Schumer added, "We're all hoping and praying for the families that were shot in Israel. It hits so close to home because at least three of those eight on the bus were American, and Brooklynites."

ABC News' Jordana Miller, Christine Theodorou and Aaron Katersky contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


One dead, more than 20 injured as strong winds cause music festival stage collapse

Manuel Augusto Moreno/Getty Images/Stock

(CULLERA, Spain) -- At least one person was killed and more than 20 others were injured when strong gusts of wind caused parts of a stage to fall at a music festival in Spain, officials said.

Three of the injured were in serious condition on Saturday, an official with the Valencia government said.

An “unexpected and violent gale” moved through the grounds of the Medusa Festival in Cullera, Spain, at about 4 a.m. local time on Saturday, the organizers said in a statement.

As the weather worsened, the organizers ordered the area around the stage to be evacuated, they said, adding, “Unfortunately, the devastating meteorological phenomenon caused some structures to cause unexpected events.”

Videos taken at the scene showed pieces of a stage breaking off in strong gusts of wind.

Local media reported that a 28-year-old man had been killed.

“The Medusa Festival management would like to express our deep and sincere condolences to the family and friends affected by the fatal consequences that occurred last night,” the organizers said in a statement.

The electronic music festival began on Friday.

This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


'I wanted to take off my skin': Ukrainian women recount rape by Russian soldiers

Antonio Hugo Photo/Getty Images

(LONDON) -- The three Russian soldiers arrived at Victoria's house claiming they needed to seize her cell phone. But they weren't looking for phones.

Victoria, a 42-year-old Ukrainian woman, told ABC News she and another woman, a neighbor, were raped by two of the Russian soldiers occupying her village near Kyiv in March.

ABC News spoke to the two women who agreed to talk about what they say happened to them, on condition that their location and last names not be revealed.

Another soldier, a commanding officer who was not involved in the assault, threatened Victoria, she says.

"He looked at me and said, 'You see, our boys have had a drink and want to have fun,'" Victoria recounts. "I understood that something terrible would happen."

Two of the soldiers took the women to a house converted into headquarters for the Russian occupiers and raped them, they say.

That neighbor, 44-year-old Natalya, recounted the events to ABC News.

"He says, 'do you want everything to be fine with your son? So get upstairs and do as I tell you,'" Natalya recalled, describing her encounter with one of the Russian soldiers she says raped her. "He was like an animal…And that rifle was hanging around and swinging."

Natalya says she later learned the soldiers killed her husband after she was taken away. Its unclear how many soldiers or which ones were involved in the killing. The family buried her husband the next day.

The two Russian soldiers the women say raped them have not yet been identified but face international arrest warrants, according to Kateryna Duchenko, the Ukrainian prosecutor in charge of sexual violence cases committed by Russian soldiers. Both cases are being investigated with slim chances of the suspects being taken under custody or doing any prison time, she said.

Stories of rape and other atrocities at the hands of Russian troops are not unheard of in small towns and suburbs of Kyiv. Residents of Bucha and Borodyanka have reported human rights violations including rape, murder and torture by Russian forces during the invasion.

Russian authorities have not responded to ABC News' requests for comment on the cases.

"The last case [we identified] was in occupied territory of Zaporizhzhia region, where allegedly 10 Russian soldiers raped a woman," Duchenko said.

Communication with residents inside Russian-occupied territories is extremely difficult, making the investigation and prosecution of these cases nearly impossible, Duchenko said.

"We know she is alive and that she had medical treatment and those details are all we've got," Duchenko said on the limited information in the case in Zaporizhzhia.

The United Nations reported in June it had collected 124 reports of alleged acts of conflict-related sexual violence but qualified that number as "the tip of the iceberg" and added that it did "not reflect the scale of sexual violence in the context of Russia's war against Ukraine."

Victoria and Natalya say they are now undergoing counseling with a psychologist about their trauma.

"I wanted to take off my skin and throw it away," Victoria says. "The person I was before the war is no longer there. I became more aggressive. I began to fight more for my own."

Natalya says she is still coming to terms with the assault.

"Many people have asked me, why aren't you crying, why haven't you gone crazy?" she said.

In June, Ukrainian authorities said they opened the first trial on sexual violence committed by a Russian soldier, according to the Kyiv Post. The suspect will be tried in absentia.

Duchenko's office says it is working on prosecuting two other cases of sexual violence committed by Russian soldiers in addition to the case opened in June. The suspects will also be tried in absentia, since they are not in Ukrainian custody.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Russia-Ukraine live updates: Russian strikes kill over a dozen civilians in southeast

ANATOLII STEPANOV/AFP via Getty Images

(NEW YORK) -- Russian President Vladimir Putin's "special military operation" into neighboring Ukraine began on Feb. 24, with Russian forces invading from Belarus, to the north, and Russia, to the east. Ukrainian troops have offered "stiff resistance," according to U.S. officials.

The Russian military has since launched a full-scale ground offensive in eastern Ukraine's disputed Donbas region, capturing the strategic port city of Mariupol and securing a coastal corridor to the Moscow-annexed Crimean Peninsula.

Here's how the news is developing. All times Eastern:

Aug 14, 4:44 PM EDT
1st UN-chartered ship loaded with Ukrainian wheat set to depart for Africa

The first UN-chartered ship loaded with Ukrainian wheat is set to head for Africa from the near the port city Odesa, Ukrainian officials said Sunday.

The MV Brave Commander is loaded with 23,000 tons of wheat that will be shipped to Ethiopia as part of a mission to relieve a global food crisis caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine that has halted grain exports for months, Ukrainian Infrastructure Minister Alexander Kubrakov announced at a news conference.

Kubrakov said the UN-chartered ship is scheduled to leave the Pivdenny port near Odesa on Monday.

"When three months ago, during the meeting of the President of Ukraine (Volodymyr) Zelenskyy and the U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in Kyiv the first negotiations on unlocking Ukrainian maritime ports began, we have already seen how critical it is becoming a food situation in the world." Kubrakov wrote in a Facebook post on Sunday. "This especially applies to the least socially protected countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America, for whom Ukraine has always been a key importer of agro-production."

He said Ethiopia is in desperate need of Ukrainian grain.

"This country has been suffering from record drought and armed confrontation for the second year in a row," Kubrakov said. "Ukrainian grain for them without exaggeration -- the matter of life and death."

He said he hopes the MV Brave Commander will be the first many more grain shipments under the U.N. World Food Program.

Aug 12, 2:28 PM EDT
'They treat us like captives': Exiled Zaporizhzhia manager on conditions at plant

An exiled manager at the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant told ABC News that the Ukrainian staff is treated "like captives."

Oleg, who asked to be referred by a pseudonym, said he felt threatened by the Russian soldiers.

"They didn't say, 'I'm going to shoot you now,' but they always carry guns and assault rifles with them," said Oleg, who managed one of 80 units at the plant but was able to leave last month. "And when an assault rifle or a gun has a cocked trigger, I consider it as a threat."

Amid reported shelling in the vicinity of the plant, Oleg said he was primarily concerned about its spent fuel containers, "which are in a precarious position, and they are not shielded well."

-ABC News Dragana Jovanovic, Britt Clennett, Nataliya Kushnir and Sohel Uddin
 

Aug 11, 1:30 PM EDT
UN secretary-general calls for all military activities around nuclear power plant to 'cease immediately'

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is "calling for all military activities" around the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Plant in southern Ukraine "to cease immediately," and for armies not "to target its facilities or surroundings."

Ukraine's nuclear regulator Energoatom said Russian forces shelled the plant for a third time on Thursday, hitting close to the first power unit. Earlier on Thursday, Energoatom said five rockets struck the area around the commandant's office, close to where the radioactive material is stored.

Yevgeny Balitsky, the Russian-installed interim governor of Zaporizhzhya Oblast, issued a statement claiming Ukrainian forces struck the plant, hitting close to an area with radioactive material.

Guterres said he's appealed to all parties to "exercise common sense" and take any actions that could endanger the physical integrity, safety or security of the largest nuclear power plant in Europe.

"Instead of de-escalation, over the past several days there have been reports of further deeply worrying incidents that could, if they continue, lead to disaster," he said, adding that he’s "gravely concerned."

-ABC News' Christine Theodorou, Fidel Pavlenko, Natalya Kushnir and Natalia Shumskaia

Aug 10, 10:06 AM EDT
Russian strike kills at least 13 civilians in southeastern Ukraine

Russian shelling killed at least 13 civilians in eastern Ukraine's Dnipropetrovsk region early Wednesday morning, local authorities said.

At least 11 others were injured, with five people remaining in critical condition, according to Dnipropetrovsk Oblast Gov. Valentyn Reznichenko, who said Russian forces fired 80 rockets at residential areas in the region.

"They deliberately and sneakily struck when people were sleeping in their homes," Reznichenko said in a statement Wednesday.

Russian shells hit civilian objects in the region's southern Nikopol district from the area of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, which is occupied by Russian troops some 30 miles away, according to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky's chief of staff, Andriy Yermak.

More than 20 high-rise buildings, two schools, a city council building and several other administrative buildings in the city of Marhanets were damaged in the attack, Yermak said.

The city of Nikopol and the surrounding areas have been subject to regular shelling for several weeks. Russian forces fired 120 MLRS missiles at Nikopol early Tuesday, damaging several residential and commercial buildings.

Russian missiles also struck the southern city of Mykolaiv on Wednesday, injuring three people, including a child.

Meanwhile, explosions and casualties were also reported in the eastern Sumy region on Wednesday morning.

-ABC News' Edward Szekeres, Yuriy Zaliznyak and Max Uzol

Aug 10, 7:28 AM EDT
Woman killed in Russian strike on outskirts of Zaporizhzhia, mayor says

Russian forces shelled the outskirts of Zaporizhzhia overnight, killing at least one civilian, the city's acting mayor, Anatoly Kurtev, said Wednesday.

The strike on the Kushugum community left three homes destroyed and almost 30 others damaged. The civilian who died was a woman, according to Kurtev.

That same night, Ukrainian troops defending the Zaporizhzhia region shot down two Russian missiles, Kurtev said, citing "preliminary information."

"Take care of yourself and your loved ones," the acting mayor said in a statement on Telegram. "Don't ignore the air alarm!"

Aug 09, 5:17 PM EDT

Ukraine behind attack in Crimea, source says; 1 dead

A source familiar with the operation confirmed to ABC News that Ukraine was behind a Tuesday explosion in Russia-annexed Crimea. One person died from the blasts in Novofedorivka in Crimea, Russia's semi-official Interfax reported, citing Crimean official Sergei Aksyonov.

This is the first major attack in Crimea since the war began in February.

-ABC News’ Britt Clennett and Dada Jovanovic

Aug 08, 2:20 PM EDT

US says 80,000 Russians may have died or been injured in Ukraine conflict

The U.S. estimates that 70,000 to 80,000 Russians have been killed or wounded since the start of the war in Ukraine, Colin Kahl, the undersecretary for defense for policy at the Department of Defense, told reporters Monday.

"There's a lot of fog in war, but, you know, I think it's safe to suggest that the Russians have probably taken 70 or 80,000 casualties in less than six months," Kahl said. "I think that's kind of in the ballpark."

Kahl would not talk about specific Ukrainian casualties but noted that "Ukrainian morale and will to fight is unquestioned and much higher, I think, than the average morale and will to fight on the Russian side." He added, "I think that gives the Ukrainians a significant advantage."

Russia has gone through "a significant percentage of their precision guided munitions and their standoff munitions," Khal said. Because they’re "running low," they’re not using them as much and keeping what they have in reserve for other contingencies, he said. And because of sanctions against Russia, it will be tougher for the military to rebuild their stocks, he said.

-ABC News’ Luis Martinez

Aug 08, 1:30 PM EDT
Pentagon announces new $1 billion military aid package

The Pentagon has announced a new $1 billion military aid package for Ukraine.

The package includes more missiles for the HIMARS advanced rocket systems; 1,000 more Javelin anti-tank weapons; 55,000 rounds of artillery for 155mm howitzers; and armored vehicles.

"This package provides a significant amount of additional ammunition, weapons, and equipment that Ukrainians are using so effectively to defend themselves and will bring total U.S. security assistance to Ukraine to approximately $9.8 billion since the beginning of this Administration," Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement.

The Treasury Department also announced Monday another $4.5 billion in direct economic assistance to help support Ukraine's government, including paying salaries and keeping hospitals and schools open.

Aug 08, 9:49 AM EDT
More ships leave Ukraine, raising hopes for peace

Two dry cargo ships loaded with export grain were scheduled to leave the Ukrainian ports of Chornomorsk and Pivdenne on Monday after a busy weekend that saw four additional cargo vessels sail through Ukrainian waters.

The vessel Sakura, carrying 11,000 tonnes of soy, was the first to leave the Ukrainian port of Pivdenne on Monday as part of an initiative to export grain from Ukraine, local media reported.

The ship set course for Italy in the company of another dry cargo carrier -- Arizona -- which left Chornomorsk, another Ukrainian Black Sea port, with 50,000 tonnes of corn on Monday. The Arizona vessel is bound for Turkey.

Another four-ship convoy left Ukraine on Sunday morning, carrying 170,000 tons of agricultural produce, Ukraine's Infrastructure Ministry said over the weekend.

Pope Francis welcomed the safe departure of the ships on Sunday while speaking at the noon-day Angelus prayer. “This event can be seen as a sign of hope,” the Pope said, adding that the export deal charts the path forward toward peace. “I sincerely hope that, following this path, we can put an end to the fighting and arrive at a just and lasting peace.”

So far, around 250,000 tonnes of corn, as well as 11,000 tonnes of soybeans, 6,000 tonnes of sunflower oil and 45,000 tonnes of sunflower meal have been exported from Ukraine on 10 ships since the first departure on Aug. 1, when the deal to establish safe corridors for ships to pass through was struck, according to a Reuters data tally.

Ukraine is planning to send up to five cargo ships a day from three Black Sea Ports in the following weeks, the local Sea Ports Authority said on Monday. Local authorities are also working to ensure that Ukrainian ports can receive at least three to five ships per day within two weeks, Infrastructure Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov said on Saturday.

The resumption of grain exports is being overseen by a Joint Coordination Centre in Istanbul, comprised of Russian, Ukrainian, Turkish and U.N. personnel.

Meanwhile, the very first ship with Ukrainian grain that left the port of Odesa on Aug. 1 has been delayed in Tripoli, Lebanon, according to Ihor Ostash, the Ukrainian Ambassador to Lebanon.

“We are waiting for the conclusion of the negotiation process. Following this vessel, 20 others are already ready to leave Odesa," the ambassador said on Sunday.

-ABC News' Edward Szekeres, Yuriy Zaliznyak, Fidel Pavlenko and Max Uzol

Aug 07, 1:35 PM EDT
Jessica Chastain meets with Zelenskyy

Actress Jessica Chastain was photographed with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Sunday in Kyiv following a meeting in which the Oscar winner expressed support for the country under siege by Russia.

"For us, such visits of famous people are extremely valuable," Zelenskyy wrote on his verified Telegram account. "Thanks to this, the world will hear, know and understand the truth about what is happening in our country even more."

In the post, Zelenskyy thanked Chastain for her support and published several photos of Chastain sitting at a table with Zelenskyy and two of his advisers.

Chastain has been vocal on social media regarding the plight Ukrainians are experiencing. In March, she tweeted photos published by Vogue Ukraine that highlighted the women being forced to give birth in bomb shelters are the start of the invasion.

-ABC News Christine Theodorou

Aug 05, 4:05 PM EDT
Russia shelled nuclear plant, Zelenskyy says

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Russian forces shelled the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant Friday.

Zelenskyy said forces twice struck the plant, which is in Russian-controlled territory in the southeast, and called the action "an act of terror," in a statement released on Telegram.

"Russia should be responsible for the very fact of creating a threat to the nuclear power plant," he said in the statement.

The facility is the largest nuclear power plant in Europe.

The Russian military, however, claimed it was a Ukrainian artillery strike that led to the reduction of activities of one power unit, and power falling at another.

They claimed 20 shells were fired at the city of Enerhodar and the power plant.

"Fortunately, the Ukrainian shells did not hit the oil and fuel facility and the oxygen plant nearby, thus avoiding a larger fire and a possible radiation accident," Russia’s defense ministry said, according to Reuters.

Earlier this week, the International Atomic Energy Agency officials said the situation at Zaporizhzhia was “out of control” as routine safety checks had not been observed. IAEA officials have appealed for access to the Russian-controlled plant.

Aug 05, 6:33 AM EDT
3 more ships carrying Ukrainian grain leave Odesa-area ports

Another three commercial ships carrying Ukrainian grain have departed from Odesa-area ports under a wartime deal, the Turkish Ministry of National Defense said Friday.

The vessels are bound for Turkey, the United Kingdom and Ireland, with a combined total of 58,000 tons of Ukrainian corn onboard. All three ships will undergo inspection in Istanbul, as is required under the grain exports deal, according to the ministry.

The United Nations confirmed Thursday that three more grain ships -- two from the port of Chornomorsk and one from Odesa -- were cleared to depart through the designated "maritime humanitarian corridor."

On Monday, the first commercial vessel carrying Ukrainian grain set sail from Odesa's port under the so-called Black Sea Grain Initiative, bound for the Lebanese port of Tripoli. Last month, Russia and Ukraine signed separate agreements with Turkey and the U.N. to allow Ukraine to resume its shipment of grain from the Black Sea to world markets and for Russia to export grain and fertilizers.

Aug 04, 10:24 AM EDT
Ukrainian fighting tactics endanger civilians, Amnesty International says

Ukrainian forces attempting to repel the Russian invasion have put civilians in harm's way by establishing bases and operating weapons systems in populated residential areas, including in schools and hospitals, Amnesty International said Thursday.

The London-based international human rights group published a new report detailing such tactics, saying they turn civilian objects into military targets.

"We have documented a pattern of Ukrainian forces putting civilians at risk and violating the laws of war when they operate in populated areas," Amnesty International Secretary-General Agnès Callamard said in a statement. "Being in a defensive position does not exempt the Ukrainian military from respecting international humanitarian law."

Between April and July, Amnesty International researchers spent several weeks investigating Russian airstrikes in the Kharkiv, Donbas and Mykolaiv regions of Ukraine. The organization inspected strike sites, interviewed survivors, witnesses and relatives of victims of attacks, as well as carried out remote-sensing and weapons analysis. Throughout the probe, researchers found evidence of Ukrainian forces launching strikes from within populated residential areas as well as basing themselves in civilian buildings in 19 towns and villages in the regions, according to Amnesty International.

The organization said most residential areas where Ukrainian soldiers located themselves were miles away from front lines, with viable alternatives that would not endanger civilians, such as nearby military bases or densely wooded areas, and other structures further away. In the cases documented, Amnesty International said it is not aware of the Ukrainian troops asking or assisting civilians to evacuate nearby buildings in the residential areas, which the organization called "a failure to take all feasible precautions to protect civilians."

Amnesty International, however, noted that not every Russian attack it documented followed this pattern. In certain other locations in which the organization concluded that Russia had committed war crimes, including in some areas of the city of Kharkiv, the organization did not find evidence of Ukrainian forces located in the civilian areas unlawfully targeted by the Russian military.

Aug 03, 11:21 AM EDT
Inspectors in Turkey clear 1st grain ship from Ukraine, but no sign of more

The first commercial vessel carrying Ukrainian grain under a wartime deal has safely departed the Black Sea, the United Nations said Wednesday.

The Sierra Leone-flagged Razoni set sail from the Ukrainian port city of Odesa on Monday, with more than 26,000 tons of Ukrainian corn on board. The vessel docked off the coast of Istanbul late Tuesday, where it was required to be inspected before being allowed to proceed to its final destination, Lebanon.

A joint civilian inspection comprising officials from Russia, Turkey, Ukraine and the U.N. inspected the Razoni on Wednesday morning, checking on the cargo and crew. After three hours, the team cleared the ship to set sail for Lebanon, according to the U.N. said.

"This marks the conclusion of an initial 'proof of concept' operation to execute the agreement," the U.N. said in a statement Wednesday.

It's the first commercial vessel carrying Ukrainian grain to safely depart the Black Sea since the start of Russia's ongoing offensive, and the first to do so under the so-called Black Sea Grain Initiative. Last month, Russia and Ukraine signed separate agreements with Turkey and the U.N. to allow Ukraine to resume its shipment of grain from the Black Sea to world markets and for Russia to export grain and fertilizers.

In a statement Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken called Razoni's journey a "significant step" but noted that "this is only a first step."

No other grain shipments have departed Ukraine in the last two days and officials on all sides have offered no explanation for that delay.

The U.N. said Wednesday that three Ukrainian ports "are due to resume the export of millions of tons of wheat, corn and other crops," but didn't provide further details.

Since Russian forces invaded neighboring Ukraine on Feb. 24, the cost of grain, fertilizer and fuel has skyrocketed worldwide. Russia and Ukraine -- often referred to collectively as Europe's breadbasket -- produce a third of the global supply of wheat and barley, but a Russian blockade in the Black Sea combined with Ukrainian naval mines have made exporting siloed grain and other foodstuffs virtually impossible. As a result, millions of people around the world -- particularly in Africa and the Middle East -- are now on the brink of famine.

Aug 03, 9:58 AM EDT
Thousands flee 'hell' in Ukraine's east

Two-thirds of residents have fled eastern Ukraine's Donetsk Oblast since the start of Russia's invasion in late February, according to the regional governor.

Speaking to Ukrainian media on Tuesday, Donetsk Oblast Gov. Pavlo Kyrylenko said some 350,000 residents remain in the war-torn region.

During his Tuesday evening address, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called the hostilities in Ukraine's east "hell."

"It cannot be described with words," Zelenskyy said.

Ukrainian forces cannot yet "completely break the Russian army's advantage in artillery and manpower, and this is very noticeable in the fighting," he added.

Last month, Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said 200,000 civilians must be evacuated from the Donetsk Oblast before the weather gets colder, as there is no proper electricity or gas supply in the area for residents to heat their homes. Russian forces are also destroying heating equipment, according to Vereshchuk.

Zelenskyy has ordered the mandatory evacuation of Donetsk Oblast residents, urging them to leave as soon as possible. Those who comply will be compensated.

"The more people leave [the] Donetsk region now, the fewer people the Russian army will have time to kill," he said.

Although many refuse to go, Zelenskyy stressed that "it still needs to be done."

Mandatory evacuation from Donetsk Oblast began on Aug. 1. The first two trains evacuated 224 people to the central Ukrainian city of Kropyvnytskyi, according to local officials.

-ABC News' Edward Szekeres, Yulia Drozd, Fidel Pavlenko and Yuriy Zaliznyak

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New Music Roundup: Jordan Davis, Parmalee & more

MCA Nashville

Jordan Davis dropped his new song, "Next Thing You Know," that follows a couple's relationship from the day they met at a bar to getting married and having their first child. It will be featured on Jordan's upcoming album, along with his current single, "What My World Spins Around," and previous hit "Buy Dirt." 

Parmalee has readied their new single for country radio, "Girl in Mine." It follows back-to-back #1 hits "Just the Way" and "Take My Name." 

Frank Ray's debut EP, Getcha Some, is out now. It's named after a phrase Frank frequently used for motivation while in the police academy. The six-song EP includes his current hit single, "Country'd Look Good on You." 

Little Big Town has shared "Better Love," another track off their upcoming album, Mr. Sun. 

Morgan Wade has released her new EP, Acoustic Sessions, featuring stripped down versions of "Last Cigarette," "Wilder Days" and others. 

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