An art exhibit in Warsaw, Poland, brings together the works of Ukrainian artists who aim to document the brutality of Russian aggression. The exhibition is entitled “Ukraine. Under a Different Sky.” For VOA, Lesia Bakalets reports on the display at the Ujazdowski Castle Centre for Contemporary Art in Warsaw. Elizabeth Cherneff narrates. Camera – Daniil Batushchak.

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Russia’s armed forces have committed “numerous war crimes and other atrocities” since Moscow launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022, said a U.S. Department of State report that documents human rights practices around the world.

“There were credible reports of summary execution, torture, rape, indiscriminate attacks, and attacks deliberately targeting civilians and civilian infrastructure by Russia’s forces in Ukraine, all of which constitute war crimes,” the State Department said in its 2022 annual human rights report, released Monday.

The annual report also underscored cases of forced deportation of civilians and children from Ukraine to Russia.

The report comes after the International Criminal Court issued warrants for the arrest of Russian President Vladimir Putin and a Russian children’s rights official for their roles in alleged war crimes relating to the illegal transfers and deportations of children from occupied Ukrainian territories to Russia.

Moscow said the arrest warrants are outrageous and has dismissed the prospect of Putin going to trial. Russia does not recognize the ICC’s jurisdiction.

U.S. President Joe Biden and senior officials from his administration have accused Russia of committing war crimes and atrocities in Ukraine. In February, the State Department determined that members of the Russian forces and other Russian officials had committed crimes against humanity in Ukraine.  

The report also highlighted concerns about continuing human rights abuses in Iran, China, Myanmar (formerly known as Burma,) Afghanistan, South Sudan, Syria and other authoritarian nations.

On Iran, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said this year’s report documents in detail “the Iranian regime’s violent crackdown and its continued denial of the Iranian people’s universal human rights and fundamental freedoms, including freedoms of expression and religion or belief.”

The death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini while in the custody of the so-called “morality police” last September for an alleged dress code violation triggered peaceful protests across Iran.

While the Iranian government launched an investigation after the death of Amini, it focused on the acts of the protesters whom the government called “rioters” with no indication it would investigate the conduct of security forces, said the State Department report.

On the People’s Republic of China, Blinken said, “Genocide and crimes against humanity” continued to occur against predominantly Muslim Uyghurs and members of other ethnic and religious minority groups in China’s Xinjiang province.

These crimes include the arbitrary imprisonment or other severe deprivation of physical liberty of more than one million civilians, forced sterilization, coerced abortions, rape and other forms of sexual and gender-based violence, and persecution including forced labor and draconian restrictions on freedom of religion or belief, freedom of expression, and freedom of movement, according to the human rights report.

On Myanmar, the report said the military regime continues to use violence to brutalize civilians and consolidate its control, killing more than 2,900 people and detaining more than 17,000 since a military coup in February 2021.  

The new report documents the status of respect for human rights and worker rights in 198 countries and territories.  The State Department has issued its annual Country Report on Human Rights Practices for more than 40 years.

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Judith Thompson sits straight and still in her chair, eyes bright, warming herself from the cold. In Mandarin, she tells VOA she taught English at the Southwestern University of Political Science and Law in Chongqing, China. But those days of doing missionary work with her husband of 49 years are long gone. “I’ve never been homeless before,” the American woman says. “It’s a whole new experience for me to adapt.”

Thompson has been staying at the Springs Rescue Mission since November. She is part of the homeless shelter’s Hope Program, which includes job training. Thompson plans to return to the mission field, in outreach. “I want to be God’s light to give people hope and encouragement.”

The Christ-centered rescue mission and similar groups have reduced homelessness by 50% in Colorado Springs. Mission president and CEO Jack Briggs credits the success to community partnership and treating all clients as humans. “It’s people. I think we miss that sometimes. People on the streets are people.”

Addicts welcome

To accomplish that, the mission meets people “where they are,” Briggs says. Those with legal issues and/or addictions can enter. The single entry to the shelter, called the welcome center, increases the safety and security that homeless people seek.

Visitors and clients walk through a metal detector, and personal items are run through a scanner. Officers employed directly by the shelter physically search clients before entry. All drugs, alcohol and weapons are removed and placed in a locker, should the client want them back upon exiting.

Anyone who enters can hear barking coming from the next room, the shelter’s kennel. Springs Rescue Mission does not want clients choosing between a roof over their head or their dog, oftentimes the only family they have.

Clients do agree, however, to part with their clothes, which in many cases are their only possessions. The shelter launders and folds them, then places them into one of 300 red lockers. “When we build that trust and a relationship, that’s the starting point to get better from the situation they happen to be in,” Briggs says.

200 loads of laundry

Thomas McDonald, who, with the mission’s help, recovered from addictions to alcohol and cocaine, coordinates the area that includes the showers and the laundry. McDonald says he manages 200 loads of laundry daily, which “helps keep me accountable for my actions.”

Clients typically spend time working and living outside the shelter before applying for a job at the mission. Community partners step in with job leads, and the mission helps 40 people a month get jobs. Briggs says that is only possible because of the rescue mission’s job training program.

“They aren’t work ready — they just aren’t. They’ve lost the skillset, they have lost the personal hygiene, they maybe have lost the motivation,” he says. Once they graduate, the mission vouches for them to liaisons in the community.

The mission boasts a dining hall that serves 500 meals daily — again, run by former clients. During the COVID-19 pandemic, when catering businesses around Colorado Springs lacked employees, the Springs Rescue Mission recognized the need and began a catering preparation business at the shelter.

Head Chef Matt De Laurell, a former methamphetamine and cocaine addict, explained, “We do everything from little picnics all the way up to big 1,000-people corporate events.” During COVID, they also supplied first responders with well-appreciated hot meals at the end of their 12-hour shifts.

USAF general to CEO

Jack Briggs was a retired U.S. Air Force major general when he was hired as president and CEO of Springs Rescue Mission. His military attention to detail is evident as he pulls out his cellphone and shows numerous statistics from the “client information gathering system.”

Unlike other shelters, Springs Rescue Mission has a full-time data analyst on staff. Says Briggs, “We gather all the data that we can at a macro level for the whole place. But then we can break it down by individuals … for care.”

Briggs says that the statistics show about 30% of his clients graduate with enough “skills, talent and capacity” to get jobs and live independently, but that recidivism after graduation lowers that number.

Jesus greets all

Religion is at the center of the nonprofit’s philosophy. An oversize bronze sculpture of Jesus wearing a crown of thorns stands above the courtyard, where clients quietly talk outdoors when the weather allows.

It wasn’t until the sculpture was in place two years ago during an $18 million renovation that Briggs realized Jesus’ index finger pointed to the enormous cross atop the welcome center.

A handwritten sign in the dining hall reads, “Need Prayer? Just ask, we would love to pray with you.”

Jack Briggs never shies away from crediting God for the rescue mission’s success.

“That’s the starting point of everything. When we focus on that, we tend to do good work. When we think it’s about Jack or this particular program or something like that, we tend to get off track.”

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European Union foreign and defense ministers are meeting Monday in Brussels as they work to finalize a multi-prong plan to supply Ukraine with ammunition and replenish their own ammunition stocks. 

The $2 billion proposal also includes working to increase the EU’s production of ammunition in order to better secure long-term supplies. 

Ukrainian officials have stressed the need for more ammunition aid from Western partners as Ukraine battles against a full-scale Russian invasion that began more than a year ago. 

EU foreign policy chief Joseph Borrell has encouraged members to approve the plan, saying Ukraine needs deliveries of more artillery ammunition to happen faster. 

Putin in Ukraine 

The Kremlin says Russian President Vladimir Putin visited the Russian-occupied Ukrainian port city of Mariupol late Saturday after a stopover in the Crimean Peninsula to mark the ninth anniversary of Moscow’s illegal annexation of the territory in 2014.     

Video showed Putin chatting with residents after earlier visiting an art school and a children’s center in Crimea.     

The visits came after the International Criminal Court Friday issued a warrant for Putin’s arrest on war crimes charges for Russia’s seizure of Ukrainian children during its 13-month invasion. Putin has not commented on the charges and the Kremlin has called the allegations “legally null and void.”       

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has demanded Russia’s withdrawal from Crimea and all areas it has occupied in the eastern regions of Ukraine, but the ground war in Ukraine’s eastern regions has to a large degree stalemated, with neither side gaining much territory.  

Zelenskyy said in his nightly video address Sunday that the warrant represented a turning point in the conflict, and that Russia would be held responsible “for every strike on Ukraine, for every destroyed life, for every deported Ukrainian child… And, of course, for every manifestation of destabilization of the world caused by Russian aggression.”    

Putin’s visit to war-torn Ukraine was his first since the February 2022 invasion. Numerous Western leaders supporting Ukraine, including U.S. President Joe Biden, have visited Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital that Putin tried — and failed — to capture in the earliest weeks of the war.     

Mariupol was one of the centers of fighting in the first months of the war, although when Russia took full control last May, only about 100,000 residents remained of the city’s prewar population of 450,000.      

Some material in this report came from The Associated Press and Agence France-Presse. 

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UBS is set to take over its troubled Swiss rival Credit Suisse for $3.25 billion following weekend crunch talks aimed at preventing a wider international banking crisis, but Asian equities sank Monday on lingering worries about the sector.   

The deal, in which Switzerland’s biggest bank will take over the second largest, was vital to prevent economic turmoil from spreading throughout the country and beyond, the Swiss government said.   

The move was welcomed in Washington, Frankfurt and London as one that would support financial stability, after a week of turbulence following the collapse of two U.S. banks.   

After a dramatic day of talks at the finance ministry in Bern — and with the clock ticking towards the markets reopening on Monday — the takeover was announced at a news conference.   

Swiss President Alain Berset was flanked by UBS chairman Colm Kelleher and his Credit Suisse counterpart Axel Lehmann, along with the Swiss finance minister and the heads of the Swiss National Bank (SNB) and the financial regulator FINMA.   

The wealthy Alpine nation is famed for its banking prominence and Berset said the takeover was the “best solution for restoring the confidence that has been lacking in the financial markets recently”.   

If Credit Suisse went into freefall, it would have had “incalculable consequences for the country and for international financial stability”, he said.   

Credit Suisse said in a statement that UBS would take it over for “a merger consideration of three billion Swiss francs ($3.25 billion)”.   

After suffering heavy falls on the stock market last week, Credit Suisse’s share price closed Friday at 1.86 Swiss francs, with the bank worth just over $8.7 billion.   

UBS said Credit Suisse shareholders would get 0.76 Swiss francs per share.   

“Given recent extraordinary and unprecedented circumstances, the announced merger represents the best available outcome,” Lehmann said.   

Asian equities still fell in early trade Monday, with Hong Kong, Tokyo, Sydney, Seoul and Singapore all in the red.   

Hong Kong’s monetary authority sought to calm jitters Monday morning, saying that “exposures of the local banking sector to Credit Suisse are insignificant”, as the bank’s assets make up “less than 0.5 percent” of the city’s banking sector.    

Despite that, the city’s banking stocks tumbled: HSBC dropped six percent, Standard Chartered shed five percent and Hang Seng Bank gave up nearly two percent, in line with a global sell-off in the sector on worries about lenders’ exposure to bonds linked to Credit Suisse.   

“Uncertainty could remain high for quite some time, even if recent bank support measures succeed,” said analyst Stephen Innes of SPI Asset Management.     

‘Huge collateral damage’ risk    

Swiss Finance Minister Karin Keller-Sutter said that bankruptcy for Credit Suisse could have caused “huge collateral damage”.    

With the “risk of contagion” for other banks, including UBS itself, the takeover has “laid the foundation for greater stability both in Switzerland and internationally”, she said.   

The deal was warmly received internationally.   

The decisions taken in Bern “are instrumental for restoring orderly market conditions and ensuring financial stability,” said European Central Bank chief Christine Lagarde.   

“The euro area banking sector is resilient, with strong capital and liquidity positions.”   

U.S. Federal Reserve chair Jerome Powell and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said in a joint statement: “We welcome the announcements by the Swiss authorities today to support financial stability.”   

The sentiment was echoed by British Finance Minister Jeremy Hunt.   

The Fed and the central banks of Canada, Britain, Japan, the EU and Switzerland announced they would launch a coordinated effort Monday to improve banks’ access to liquidity.   

The SNB announced 100 billion Swiss francs of liquidity would be available for the UBS-Credit Suisse takeover.   

Keller-Sutter insisted the deal was “a commercial solution and not a bailout”.  

UBS chairman Kelleher said: “We are committed to making this deal a great success. UBS will remain rock solid.”   

Job worries   

The takeover creates a banking giant such as Switzerland has never seen before — and raises concerns about possible layoffs.   

The Swiss Bank Employees Association said there was “a great deal at stake” for the 17,000 Credit Suisse staff, plus tens of thousands of jobs outside of the banking industry potentially at risk.   

Like UBS, Credit Suisse was one of 30 worldwide Global Systemically Important Banks — deemed of such importance to the international banking system that they are colloquially called “too big to fail”.   

But the markets saw the bank as a weak link in the chain.   

Amid fears of contagion after the collapse of two U.S. banks, Credit Suisse’s share price plunged by more than 30% on Wednesday to a record low of 1.55 Swiss francs. That saw the SNB step in overnight with a $54-billion lifeline.   

After recovering some ground Thursday, its shares closed down 8% on Friday at 1.86 Swiss francs, as it struggled to retain investor confidence.   

In 2022, the bank suffered a net loss of $7.9 billion and expects a “substantial” pre-tax loss this year.   

Credit Suisse’s share price has tumbled from 12.78 Swiss francs in February 2021 due to a string of scandals that it has been unable to shake off. 

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Daniel Duggan is wanted in the United States on charges including conspiracy to unlawfully export defense services to China and money laundering. Lawyers for the former U.S. marine, accused of helping to train Chinese military pilots, have said they are investigating whether he was ‘trapped’ by American authorities who are seeking his extradition from Australia.  

Duggan had applied for an Australian government job in aviation that needed security clearance. That was initially granted but was revoked soon after he returned to Australia.     

The former U.S. marine pilot’s lawyer, Dennis Miralis, believes the extradition request is politically motivated and says that his client could well have been entrapped.   

“It is striking to us that a sequence of events like that could occur,” Miralis told reporters Monday outside the court in Sydney. “We are exploring at this stage whether or not he was lured back to Australia by the U.S., where the U.S. knew that he would be in a jurisdiction where he would be capable of being extradited back to the U.S.”  

“That is a matter of grave significance,” Miralis said. “At this stage these are matters under investigation.”    

Authorities in Washington have accused Duggan of training Chinese fighter pilots and believe he’s violated the arms export control act.     

He was arrested last October in the Australian state of New South Wales and has recently been moved from a remand center in Sydney to a maximum-security prison.     

His legal team has filed a submission to the U.N. Human Rights Commission claiming that his incarceration breaches the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.    

The Australian government approved a request for his extradition almost three months ago.   

The former marine airman is an Australian citizen who’s renounced his U.S. citizenship.  He denies breaking any law and has said he was training civilian not military pilots.    

Australia, the United States and Britain in recent months have launched a crackdown on former military pilots being recruited by China.   

A magistrate in Sydney will decide if Duggan is eligible for extradition to the United States to face criminal charges. The case has been adjourned until May 1. 

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A Pentagon study has found high rates of cancer among military pilots and for the first time has shown that ground crews who fuel, maintain and launch those aircraft are also getting sick. 

The data had long been sought by retired military aviators who have raised alarms for years about the number of air and ground crew members they knew who had cancer. They were told that earlier military studies had found they were not at greater risk than the general U.S. population. 

In its yearlong study of almost 900,000 service members who flew on or worked on military aircraft between 1992 and 2017, the Pentagon found that air crew members had an 87% higher rate of melanoma and a 39% higher rate of thyroid cancer, while men had a 16% higher rate of prostate cancer and women a 16% higher rate of breast cancer. Overall, the air crews had a 24% higher rate of cancer of all types. 

The study showed ground crews had a 19% higher rate of brain and nervous system cancers, a 15% higher rate of thyroid cancer and a 9% higher rate of kidney or renal cancers, while women had a 7% higher rate of breast cancer. The overall rate for cancers of all types was 3% higher. 

There was some good news reported as well. Both ground and air crews had far lower rates of lung cancer, and air crews also had lower rates of bladder and colon cancers. 

The data compared the service members with the general U.S. population after adjusting for age, sex and race. 

The Pentagon said the new study was one of the largest and most comprehensive to date. An earlier study had looked at just Air Force pilots and had found some higher rates of cancer, while this one looked across all services and at both air and ground crews. Even with the wider approach, the Pentagon cautioned that the actual number of cancer cases was likely to be even higher because of gaps in the data, which it said it would work to remedy. 

The study “proves that it’s well past time for leaders and policy makers to move from skepticism to belief and active assistance,” said retired Air Force Col. Vince Alcazar, a member of the Red River Valley Fighter Pilots Association, which had lobbied the Pentagon and Congress for help. Alcazar serves on the association’s medical issues committee. 

The study was required by Congress in the 2021 defense bill. Now, because higher rates were found, the Pentagon must conduct an even bigger review to try to understand why the crews are getting sick. 

Isolating potential causes is difficult, and the Pentagon was careful to note that this study “does not imply that military service in air crew or ground crew occupations causes cancer, because there are multiple potential confounding factors that could not be controlled for in this analysis,” such as family histories, smoking or alcohol use. 

But aviation crews have long asked for the Pentagon to look closely at some of the environmental factors they are exposed to, such as jet fuels and solvents used to clean and maintain jet parts, sensors and their power sources in aircraft nose cones, and the massive radar systems on the decks of the ships they land on. 

When Navy Capt. Jim Seaman would come home from a deployment aboard an aircraft carrier, his gear would reek of jet fuel, his widow, Betty Seaman, said. The A-6 Intruder pilot died in 2018 at age 61 of lung cancer. Betty Seaman still has his gear stored and it still smells of fuel, “which I love,” she said. 

She and others wonder if there’s a link. She said crews would talk about how even the ship’s water systems would smell of fuel. 

She said she and others have mixed feelings about finally seeing in data what they have suspected for years about the aviation cancers. But “it has the potential to do a lot of good as far as early communication, early detection,” she said. 

The study found that when crew members were diagnosed with cancer, they were more likely to survive than members of the general population, which the study suggested was because they were diagnosed earlier due to regular required medical checkups and were more likely to be in better health because of their military fitness requirements. 

The Pentagon acknowledged that the study had gaps that likely led to an undercount of cancer cases. 

The military heath system database used in the study did not have reliable cancer data until 1990, so it may not have included pilots who flew early-generation jets in the prior decades. 

The study also did not include cancer data from the Department of Veterans Affairs or state cancer registries, which means it did not capture cases from former crew members who got sick after leaving the military medical system. 

“It is important to note that study results may have differed had additional older former service members been included,” it said. 

To remedy that, the Pentagon is now going to pull data from those registries to add to the total count, the study said. 

The second phase of the study will try to isolate causes. The 2021 bill requires the Defense Department not only to identify “the carcinogenic toxicants or hazardous materials associated with military flight operations,” but also determine the type of aircraft and locations where diagnosed crews served. 

After her husband got sick, Betty Seaman asked him if he would have chosen differently, knowing his service might be linked to his cancer. 

“I flat-out asked Jim. And he, without hesitation, said, ‘I would have still done it.'” 

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The Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) continued to pave the way for Russian and Belarusian athletes to qualify for next year’s Paris Summer Games through events in the region when its Athletes Forum endorsed the principles behind it. 

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) is coming under immense pressure from 35 governments, including the United States, Britain and France, to exclude athletes from Russia and its ally Belarus because of the invasion of Ukraine. 

The IOC said in January it was open to including the athletes from the countries in the Olympics as neutrals and suggested Asia as a possible qualifying pathway to circumvent bans from European regional competitions. 

The OCA has already offered to let Russian and Belarusian athletes compete at the Asian Games in China later this year and, according to the regional body, a gathering of 88 athletes at a closed meeting in Bangkok on Saturday agreed. 

An OCA statement said the forum had agreed that athletes “should not be punished for the actions of their governments” and “should have access to international competitions (including the Asian Games) without any form of discrimination.” 

The forum also endorsed conditions under which Russians and Belarusians could compete, including a ban on government officials from the two countries, a ban on flags or national symbols being displayed, and full compliance with doping rules. 

The forum insisted on “fairness to Asian athletes in any qualification pathway,” an indication that any spots in Paris granted to Russians and Belarusians should not be at the expense of athletes from the most populous continent. 

The arguments reflected the position of the IOC, which is desperate to prevent the ongoing conflict from tearing apart the Olympic movement, on the issue. 

Ukraine has threatened to boycott the Paris Olympics should Russians and Belarusians be allowed to compete. No final decision has been taken yet. 

The 35 “like-minded” governments expressed concerns about the athletes competing as neutrals in a statement last month given that they were directly funded by their governments and often had close links to the military. 

The Asian Games take place in Hangzhou from Sept. 23 to Oct. 8, having been delayed from last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

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