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Iraqi Cleric To Disarm If U.S. Withdraws On Timetable

BAGHDAD -- Influential Iraqi Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr would dissolve his militia if the United States starts withdrawing troops according to a set timetable, his spokesman has said.

The statement comes at a crucial point in talks between Baghdad and Washington over a new security pact that will provide a legal basis for U.S. troops to operate in Iraq when a United Nations mandate expires at the end of the year.

U.S. President George W. Bush has refused to set a firm timetable for withdrawing 144,000 U.S. troops from Iraq, but spoke last month of a general "time horizon" for a pullout.

Iraqi negotiators have proposed a timetable that would see U.S. combat troops leave the country by October 2010, although Washington has not yet agreed to it, a senior Iraqi official said on August 8.

If agreed, the timetable would mean the Bush administration effectively adopting a schedule very close to that proposed by Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, who opposed the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

A cease-fire imposed by al-Sadr on his militia a year ago has been a major factor in a drop in violence in Iraq to four-year lows. Al-Sadr, whose political movement controls 10 percent of seats in parliament, has long demanded U.S. troops leave Iraq.

"We feel there's a serious intention by the American forces for a withdrawal timetable at the very least," al-Sadr's spokesman Salih al-Ubaydi said before Friday Prayers, when the cleric is to launch a new cultural wing of his movement.

"It should not be considered an end to the Al-Mahdi Army, but it's a halfway step to dissolving the Al-Mahdi Army. If the U.S. began to implement a withdrawal timetable we shall complete the path to dissolution," al-Ubaydi said.

'Time Horizons'

Iraqi government officials say an agreement is close on a timetable for a U.S. withdrawal. But the White House says it is too soon to say when it can pull out its forces, which have been in Iraq since the 2003 invasion.

The issue is politically sensitive in the United States ahead of the presidential election in November. Obama has pledged to withdraw all combat troops by mid-2010, while his Republican opponent John McCain refuses to set a date.

The Iraqi proposal would see U.S. forces withdraw from the streets of Iraqi cities by the middle of next year and combat troops return home by October 2010. Some U.S. support units could stay on for another few years, the senior official said.

"As of last night. [the schedule] was one of the issues being discussed between the two sides. There is no agreement yet, but this is what the Iraqis are asking for," said the official, who is close to the negotiations.

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino, in Beijing accompanying Bush, said no announcement on an agreement was imminent and it was too early to discuss the dates of a pullout.

"It's premature to say what the aspirational goals and time horizons are going to be. But we are continuing to work with them on our negotiations, on those issues," she said.

She cited Bush's earlier statement that any such goals would be "conditions-based."

Iraq's ambassador to the United Nations, Hamid Bayati, said on August 7 that an agreement on the U.S. forces' status was close and that the government expected to put it to legislators when they return from summer recess in September.

Al-Sadr's Imam Al-Mahdi Army launched two uprisings against U.S. forces in 2004. The cleric backed fellow Shi'a Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's rise to power in 2006, but split with him last year over the troop-timetable issue.

This year al-Maliki launched several largely successful crackdowns against militias including the Al-Mahdi Army.

U.S. and Iraqi forces have now deployed in al-Sadr's Baghdad stronghold, the Al-Sadr City slum, after weeks of heavy fighting in March and April. Prior to the campaign, government influence among the slum's 2 million people was virtually nil.

Iraqi forces also successfully pushed militias from the center of the southern city of Al-Basrah earlier this year.

Al-Sadr's spokesman said that while the "resistance" would not end until U.S. troops left Iraq, the cleric was ready to take positive steps if Washington moved in the right direction.

"If we find [this doesn't happen] and the U.S. forces change their stance over the timetable, we can change direction also," he said. "This will not mean ending the cease-fire, it will depend on what's going on on the ground."

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Russia, Ukraine Announce Latest Prisoner Swap

Andriy Yermak , the head of the Ukrainian presidential office, also said that Kyiv has managed to secure the release of 98 Ukrainian prisoners of war in the past week. In this picture, a group of POWs pose after a swap in the Zaporizhzhya region on November 24.

Russia and Ukraine announced the latest exchange of prisoners, with 12 Ukrainians and nine Russians released. “Another POWs swap. We managed to [win the] release 12 [Ukrainians]. Our soldiers, who defended Mariupol, the Chernobyl [nuclear plant], and Snake Island are returning home,” the head of the Ukrainian presidential office, Andriy Yermak, said on Twitter on November 26. Meanwhile, the Russian Defense Ministry said nine Russians prisoners of war had been released to Russian authorities “as a result of the negotiation process.”

Ukraine Wants Lower Cap On Russian Oil, At $30-$40 Per Barrel

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy

The price for Russian seaborne oil should be capped at between $30-$40 per barrel, lower than the level that Group of Seven (G7) nations have proposed, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on November 26. EU governments, seeking to curb Moscow's ability to fund the Ukraine war without causing an oil supply shock, are split over a G7 push that the cap be set at $65-$70 per barrel. It is due to enter into force on December 5. To read the original story from Reuters, click here.


Zelenskiy Says Ukraine 'Cannot Be Broken,' Citing Russian Invasion, 1932-33 Famine

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and his wife, Olena, pay their respects to the victims of the Holodomor famine at a memorial in central Kyiv on November 26.

KYIV -- President Volodymyr Zelenskiy declared that Ukraine “cannot be broken” as he cited his country’s fight against the Russian invasion and marked the anniversary of the famine regarded by Ukrainians to be a deliberate act perpetrated by Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin.

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

RFE/RL's Live Briefing gives you all of the latest developments on Russia's ongoing invasion, Kyiv's counteroffensive, Western military aid, global reaction, and the plight of civilians. For all of RFE/RL's coverage of the war, click here.

"Ukrainians went through very terrible things...Once they wanted to destroy us with hunger -- now, with darkness and cold," Zelenskiy said on November 26 in a video message.

"We cannot be broken," he declared.

The prime ministers of EU and NATO members Belgium, Lithuania, and Poland were in Kyiv to mark the day and to attend a summit hosted by Zelenskiy to press the “Grain From Ukraine” initiative designed to get crucial supplies to world markets. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and French President Emmanuel Macron were among those speaking through video addresses.

Zelenskiy’s remarks came amid widespread cuts in power and water supplies in his country after weeks of Russian strikes on Ukrainian infrastructure and as temperatures plunge with the beginning of winter.

Zelenskiy and other leaders commemorated the victims of the Holodomor famine, which took place in 1932-33 as Stalin's police forced peasants in Ukraine to join collective farms by requisitioning their grain and other foodstuffs.

Historians say the failure to properly harvest crops in Ukraine in 1932 under Soviet mismanagement was the main cause of the famine.

It is estimated that up to 9 million people died as a result of executions, deportation, and starvation during the Stalin-era campaign.

Many Ukrainians consider the famine an act of genocide aimed at wiping out Ukrainian farmers.

Along with Ukraine, at least 16 other countries have officially recognized the Holodomor as “genocide.”

Ukraine Marks Anniversary Of Catastrophic Stalin-Era Famine
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In October 2018, the U.S. Senate adopted a nonbinding resolution recognizing that Stalin and those around him committed genocide against the Ukrainians in 1932-33.

German lawmakers are preparing to recognize the Holodomor as genocide, according to a draft text seen by the AFP news agency of a joint resolution from Germany's ruling coalition and opposition.

Moscow has long denied any systematic effort to target Ukrainians, arguing that a poor harvest at the time wiped out many in other parts of the Soviet Union.

How Ukraine's Holodomor Famine Was Secretly Photographed
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Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said that he "honored the memory of the Holodomor victims" at a memorial in the Ukrainian capital.

Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo, on his first visit to Kyiv since the Russian invasion, said on Twitter that "after the heavy bombing of recent days, we stand with the people of Ukraine. More than ever before."

"With the cold winter months ahead, Belgium is releasing new humanitarian and military aid," he added.

Zelenskiy told the grain summit that Kyiv is one of the guarantors of world food security and will fulfill its duties despite the Russian invasion, citing the new “Grain From Ukraine” initiative.

He pressed world leaders to support the initiative aimed at feeding about 5 million people in poor countries, particularly Ethiopia, Sudan, South Sudan, Somalia, Yemen, Congo, Kenya, and Nigeria.

Speaking through video statements to the summit, Scholz and Macron unveiled new financial packages designed to aid Ukrainian grain exports, which have been hit hard by the war, causing food shortages in many of the world’s poorer nations.

"The most vulnerable countries must not pay the price of a war they did not want," Macron said.

Zelenskiy said the Black Sea Grain Initiative -- brokered by Turkey and the UN and agreed to by Russia and Ukraine -- is not operating at full capacity, blaming what he called Moscow's efforts to delay the movement of ships, leaving many vessels trapped at Ukrainian ports.

The deal took effect in August, aimed at unblocking grain shipments to countries in Africa, the Middle East, and parts of Asia.

Ukraine and Russia are key global suppliers of wheat, barley, sunflower oil, and other food to those countries, and Russia was the world's top exporter of fertilizer before it launched its ongoing invasion of Ukraine in February.

Many in the West have accused Russia of weaponizing the shipment of crucial food-related supplies to world markets. Moscow denies the accusations.

Amid Blackouts, Odesa Residents Hunt For Generators To Stay Powered Up
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Meanwhile, throughout Ukraine, millions of people are still without heat or electricity after the recent devastating Russian air strikes on infrastructure sites.

Authorities on November 26 were gradually restoring power in many cities -- helped by the reconnection to the grid of the nation’s four nuclear plants.

Fighting between Russian and Ukrainian forces was reported in the east and south of the country, as Kyiv’s troops continue their counteroffensive, which has recaptured thousands of kilometers of territory seized by Russia early in the war.

In the recently liberated southern city of Kherson and its environs, authorities said at least 32 people have been killed by Russian shelling since pro-Kremlin forces withdrew two weeks ago and moved to the eastern bank of the Dnieper River.

"Daily Russian shelling is destroying the city and killing peaceful local residents. In all, Russia has killed 32 civilians in the Kherson region since the de-occupation," Ihor Klymenko, chief of the National Police of Ukraine, said on Facebook.

"Many people are evacuating to seek refuge in calmer regions of the country. But many residents remain in their homes, and we need to provide them with the maximum possible security," he added.

With reporting by AFP and AP

Prime Ministers From Belgium, Lithuania, Poland Arrive In Kyiv, Offer Support For Ukraine

Lithuanian Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte (left), Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo (second from left), Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy (center), Hungarian President Katalin Novak (second from right), and Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki attend a joint news conference after an international summit in Kyiv on November 26.

The prime ministers of EU and NATO members Lithuania, Poland, and Belgium arrived in Kyiv on November 26, expressing support for Ukraine in its fight against the Russian invasion and attending a summit hosted by President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to discuss implementation of the “Grain From Ukraine” initiative. The parties reaffirmed their readiness to continue their efforts to ensure regular and structured EU budget support for Ukraine throughout 2023 and further participation in the restoration and reconstruction of infrastructure damaged by Russia's full-scale invasion. To read the original story from RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service, click here.

Belarusian Foreign Minister Makei Dies, Says State News Agency

Belarusian Foreign Minister Uladzimer Makei (file photo)

Belarusian Foreign Minister Uladzimer Makei has died suddenly at the age of 64, the BelTA state news agency reported on November 26. No cause of death was cited and a spokesman said there were no indications he had been in poor health. Until 2020, in pro-Kremlin media and Telegram channels, Makei had repeatedly been accused of seeking to improve relations with the West to the detriment of Russia's interests, but he later defended Minsk's logistical support for Moscow's invasion of Ukraine. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Belarus Service, click here.

130,000 In Kyiv Still Without Power After Russian Strikes

A woman walks in Kyiv amid a blackout following Russian strikes on the city.

After intensive Russian attacks, tens of thousands of residents in the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, are still without electricity, according to the local authorities. Some 130,000 people in the metropolis of 3 million were still affected, the city's military administration said on November 26, adding that repairs should be finished in the next 24 hours. All heating systems should then be working again, the authorities said. On November 23, Russia targeted Ukraine's energy infrastructure with dozens of missiles and cruise missiles, causing severe damage.

Cyberattack Hits Iran's Fars News Agency

The headquarter of the Fars news agency in Tehran (file photo)

Hackers have disrupted the work of Iran's Fars news agency, one of the main sources of news disseminated by the state during protests over the death of a young woman in police custody in September, the agency said. Fars said its website had been disrupted late on November 25 by a "complex hacking and cyberattack operation...Removing possible bugs...may cause problems for some agency services for a few days," it said in a statement posted on November 26 on its Telegram channel. To read the original story by AFP, click here.

Power Restored In Ukrainian City Of Kherson, Senior Presidential Aide Says

Kherson had been without electricity, central heating, and running water when Ukrainian forces reclaimed it on November 11.

Electricity has been restored in the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson after its liberation earlier this month from Russian occupation, a senior presidential aide said on November 26. "First we are supplying power to the city's critical infrastructure and then immediately to household consumers," Kyrylo Tymoshenko, the deputy head of Ukraine's presidential administration, wrote on the Telegram messaging app. The city had been without electricity, central heating and running water when Ukrainian forces reclaimed it on November 11. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.

Ukraine Works To Restore Water, Power After Russian Strikes

Vehicles drive in darkness in the center of Lviv, one of several Ukrainian cities that have experienced power outages this week as a result of Russian strikes on the country's infrastructure.

Ukrainian authorities endeavored on November 26 to restore electricity and water services after a recent pummeling by Russian military strikes that vastly damaged infrastructure. President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said millions have seen their power restored since blackouts swept the war-battered country days earlier. Meanwhile, skirmishes continued in the east and residents from the southern city of Kherson headed north and west to flee after punishing, deadly bombardments by Russian forces in recent days. To read the original story by AP, click here.

Ukraine President's Chief Of Staff Says Russia 'Will Pay' For Soviet-Era Famines

Ukraine's annual memorial day for the victims of Holodomor famine takes place this year on November 26. (file photo)

Russia will pay for a Soviet-era famine that left millions of Ukrainians dead during the winter of 1932-33 and for its actions in the current war in Ukraine, the head of Ukraine's presidential administration said on November 26. "The Russians will pay for all of the victims of the Holodomor and answer for today's crimes," Andriy Yermak wrote on Telegram, using the Ukrainian name for the disaster. Ukraine's annual memorial day for the victims of Holodomor takes place this year on November 26. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.

Toqaev Sworn In For Second Term As Kazakhstan's President After Vote That 'Lacked Genuine Competition'

Kazakh President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev (file photo)

Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev was sworn in for his second term as Kazakhstan’s president in a ceremony in Astana on November 26 after winning a snap election that international observers said lacked genuine competition. Toqaev's victory was expected, given that he was competing against five little-known opponents. The November 20 election came nearly three months after Kazakhstan replaced its system limiting presidents to two consecutive five-year terms with a single seven-year term. To read the original story by RFE/RL’s Kazakh Service, click here.

Iran's Khamenei Praises Basij Forces For Confronting 'Riots'

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (file photo)

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in a televised speech on November 26 that Basij militia forces sacrificed their lives in "riots" sparked by the death in custody of a young Iranian Kurdish woman in September. The Basij force, affiliated with the country's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, has been at the forefront of the state crackdown on protests that have spread across the country. To read the original story from Reuters, click here.

U.K. Says Russia Likely Removing Nuclear Warheads From Missiles And Firing At Ukraine

British intelligence said open-source imagery shows the wreckage of an air-launched cruise missile fired at Ukraine which seems to have been designed in the 1980s as a nuclear delivery system. (file photo)

Russia is likely removing nuclear warheads from ageing nuclear cruise missiles and firing unarmed munitions at Ukraine, Britain's military intelligence said on November 26. It said open-source imagery shows the wreckage of an air- launched cruise missile fired at Ukraine which seems to have been designed in the 1980s as a nuclear delivery system, adding that ballast was probably being substituted for the warheads. Such a system will still produce damage through the missile's kinetic energy and unspent fuel. However, it's unlikely to achieve reliable effects against intended targets. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.

In Rare Public Spat, Zelenskiy Criticizes Kyiv Mayor Over Emergency Centers

Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko (file photo)

In a rare public spat involving Ukrainian leaders, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy criticized the mayor of Kyiv for doing what he said was a poor job setting up emergency shelters to help those without power and heat after Russian attacks. Ukraine has established thousands of "invincibility centers" where people can access heat, water, Internet, and mobile phone links. In an evening address on November 25, Zelenskiy indicated that Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko and his officials had not done enough and "more work is needed." To see the original Reuters story, click here.

Six Million Ukrainians Still Without Electricity; Army Says Battles Raging In East And Southeast

People gather at the railway station in Kherson as they charge their electronic devices and wait to board an evacuation train earlier this week.

Ukrainian repair crews continued to scramble to return power to millions of homes on November 25 following devastating Russian missile attacks this week on infrastructure facilities including water and heating sources, while Kyiv said near-constant Russian bombing was affecting a handful of population centers in the east.

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in his nightly video address that more than 6 million households remain in darkness.

"As of this evening, blackouts continue in most regions and in Kyiv," he said.

But he said work crews had succeeded in cutting the number of affected locations "by half" since November 23, one of the most destructive nights of Russian bombing of power infrastructure in the nine-month-old invasion.

In addition to the capital, Zelenskiy said Odesa on the Black Sea, Lviv in western Ukraine, west-central Vinnytsia, and Dnipropetrovsk in central Ukraine are some of the hardest-hit areas.

Amid Blackouts, Odesa Residents Hunt For Generators To Stay Powered Up
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The national power-grid company, Ukrenerho, said via Telegram on November 25 that by 7 p.m. around 30 percent of the country's electricity supplies were still out.

It said a "phased restoration" was continuing and repair teams "are working around the clock" but urged people to consume energy "sparingly."

Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal credited energy workers and said, "No country in the world has such experience in putting the energy system into operation after seven waves of missile strikes."

Zelenskiy also visited a multistory residential building reportedly damaged by a Russian missile in the town of Vyshhorod, north of the capital, along with one of the emergency hubs Ukraine has been setting up around the country to provide device charging, heat, water, Internet, and electricity.

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

RFE/RL's Live Briefing gives you all of the latest developments on Russia's ongoing invasion, Kyiv's counteroffensive, Western military aid, global reaction, and the plight of civilians. For all of RFE/RL's coverage of the war, click here.

In his video statement he assured Ukrainians that "we will overcome all challenges and we will definitely win."

The Ukrainian Army General Staff said on November 25 that said active battles were raging in the regions of Kharkiv, Luhansk, Donetsk, and Zaporizhzhya.

Russian forces are carrying out nonstop shelling in the Kryvyi and Kherson regions, it said, including in the city of Kherson.

The Ukrainian military said its forces had carried out attacks on a Russian command post and a half-dozen other targets including three enemy anti-aircraft missile stations.

RFE/RL cannot independently verify battlefield claims in areas of intense fighting.

The Ukrainian General Staff also accused Russian troops of dangerous actions at Europe's largest nuclear plant at Zaporizhzhya, which it has occupied since early in the invasion.

"The opponent continues to pressure Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant workers," a Ukrainian General Staff spokesman said on Facebook. "According to available information, individual employees who refuse to cooperate with the occupation authorities are not allowed to work places."

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and Ukrainian officials have complained of catastrophic risk as exhausted Ukrainian workers at Zaporizhzhya work under extreme duress.

The head of the UN's nuclear agency said this week that all of Ukraine's civilian nuclear power plants are due for inspections and that IAEA experts will visit all those facilities, including the abandoned Chernobyl power plant.

With reporting by Reuters and AFP

LGBT Support Center Shutters Tatarstan Operations Over Russia's New Anti-LGBT 'Propaganda' Law

A participant poses with a rainbow flag with Interior Ministry officers in the background during an LGBT rally in St. Petersburg in 2017.

A support center for the LGBT+ community in the capital of the southern Russian Republic of Tatarstan has announced its suspension of activities to avoid falling afoul of a sweeping new Russian law banning "propaganda" of nontraditional sexual relations or desires to "change sex."

The Acceptance center in Kazan announced the closure on its Instagram page on November 25.

"In connection with the new law on the complete ban on LGBT 'propaganda,' Acceptance is suspending its activities," the group said, adding that it was ending its main activity on a leading Russian social network. "The VK website and support group are being closed. Open support groups for queer people in Kazan are being suspended."

Russia's parliament on November 24 passed the third and final reading of legislation that expands a nine-year-old ban on promoting LGBT "propaganda" to children by barring such promotion among people of any age.

Any action or event deemed to be promoting nontraditional gender views or homosexuality -- including online, in film, books, advertising or in public -- could incur a heavy fine. The fine will be up to $6,600 for individuals and up to $82,100 for legal entities, according to Reuters.

Russia Declares Ex-Mayor, TV Journalist, And Trans Support Group Among 'Foreign Agents'

Former Yekaterinburg Mayor Yevgeny Roizman (file photo)

Russia's Justice Ministry has placed former Yekaterinburg Mayor Yevgeny Roizman and TV Dozhd journalist Anna Mongait on its list of "foreign agents."

Other new additions under the increasingly applied law on November 25 included a trans-initiative group, a charitable foundation, and a journalist who collaborates with RFE/RL.

A Russian court released Roizman from detention in August but ordered him not to communicate with anyone without permission, as it imposed pre-trial restrictions a day after police arrested the outspoken Kremlin critic and prosecutors accused him of "discrediting the armed forces."

Journalist Mongait's independent Russian television station Dozhd was forced to suspend operations in March amid pressure linked to its coverage of the Russian invasion of Ukraine and later began broadcasting some of its programs from Latvia.

Also on the list were the head of the Free Buryatia anti-war foundation; a former volunteer for jailed Kremlin critic Aleksei Navalny's headquarters in Ufa; and a Perm political scientist and the coordinator of the Golos observer movement.

The ministry also added journalist Lyubov Barabashova, who collaborates with RFE/RL's Russian Service's Siberia.Realities project, to its list.

It also included among foreign agents the trans-initiative group T-Action, which supports the transgender community.

The Social Partnership, an NGO, was also listed.

Ukraine Needs To Be 'Far-Sighted' To Secure Peace, Pope Says

The pope earlier this month called for a cease-fire to avert the risk of escalation of the conflict and asked God to "hurry up" to end it.

Ukraine's leaders will have to be "far-sighted" to secure peace, Pope Francis said on November 25, suggesting Kyiv would have to make concessions to end the war with Russia. The pope earlier this month called for a cease-fire to avert the risk of escalation of the conflict and asked God to "hurry up" to end it. The Roman Catholic Church leader described Ukrainians as "a bold and strong people" and "a noble and martyred people." To read the original story by Reuters, click here.

Hungary's President Novak Traveling To Ukraine To Meet With Zelenskiy

Hungarian President Katalin Novak is a steadfast Orban ally and former lawmaker and minister of family affairs who took over as president in May.

Hungarian President Katalin Novak is making her country's highest-level official visit to Ukraine since the Russian invasion began nine months ago, according to the local website.

There was no official confirmation.

The website said Novak was invited by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, who has repeatedly expressed exasperation at the response to the war by NATO- and EU-member Hungary's leadership and especially its entrenched Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

The outlet did not say when Novak was traveling but said she would be making the trip to neighboring Ukraine by train.

Budapest has publicly refused to join fellow NATO states in supplying weapons directly to Ukraine and has staunchly resisted Brussels' pressure to cut off its imports of Russian gas, although it has acknowledged Russian responsibility for the conflict.

Novak is a steadfast Orban ally and former lawmaker and minister of family affairs who took over as president in May.

Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said amid quarrels over a possible EU price cap on Russian oil on November 24 that Budapest had negotiated itself an exemption within the EU's current proposal, meaning such a cap among other members would not affect Hungary if it were adopted.

Orban, who has ruled for 12 years and won a new four-year term in April, and his ruling Fidesz government have attacked Western sanctions as akin to the EU "shooting itself in the lung."

He and Szijjarto are almost alone among senior Western officials in having made official trips to Russia since President Vladimir Putin launched the all-out invasion of Ukraine in February.

Under Orban, Hungary has spurned Western warnings to court Moscow in energy and diplomatic areas as Budapest increasingly challenges EU policy including on free media, democracy, LGBT rights, immigration, and rule of law.

Novak has joined other Hungarian officials including Orban in keeping the fate of Transcarpathian Hungarians high on her list of priorities in relations with Kyiv.

Iran Sends More Troops To Kurdish Region As New Protest Flares

Protesters take to the streets Zahedan, the capital of Sistan-Baluchistan Province.

Iran's Revolutionary Guards have built up their presence in restive Kurdish regions, state media reported on November 25 amid a crackdown on mass protests, as video showed demonstrations in minority Baluch areas of the southeast. Activist website 1500Tavsir posted footage it said was from protests in Zahedan, the capital of Sistan-Baluchistan Province, with the sound of gunshots and, in one video, demonstrators running for cover. Reuters could not independently verify their authenticity. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.

Half Of Kyiv Still Without Electricity After Russian Strikes

People stand amid a blackout after a Russian missile attack in Kyiv on November 23.

Nearly half of Kyiv residents were still without electricity on November 25 as engineers battled to restore services two days after Russian strikes hammered the country's energy grid. Utility workers were still working to reconnect the heating and water as temperatures in Kyiv approached freezing. The systematic attacks in recent weeks have wreaked havoc on Ukraine's energy infrastructure as winter approaches, spurring fears of a health crisis and a further exodus. To read the original story by AFP, click here.

Days After Acquittal Confirmed In Nudes Case, LGBT Artist Flees Russia

Feminist activist and artist Yulia Tsvetkova (center) stands with her mother, Anna Khodyreva (right), and lawyer Irina Ruchko following a court session in Komsomolsk-on-Amur in April 2021.

An LGBT activist and artist acquitted recently in a high-profile pornography case over nude drawings and other artwork she posted online has left Russia days after an unsuccessful appeal by prosecutors, her mother mother said on November 25.

Yulia Tsvetkova, 29, was found not guilty in mid-July before prosecutors under pressure from anti-LGBT activists appealed the ruling.

That appeal was rejected by an appeals court in the Siberian city of Komsomolsk-on-Amur on November 22, according to Tsvetkova's mother, who lives in France.

"Why they left, I think it's obvious," her mother, Anna Khodyreva, said. "Yulia is [regarded as] a 'foreign agent,' with a new law [criminalizing "LGBT propaganda"] -- it's easier to die than to live in Russia."

She said that two new criminal cases have been opened against her daughter, so "it's impossible [for her] to stay in Russia."

Tsvetkova draws women's bodies and is widely known for her advocacy of LGBT issues.

Tsvetkova's administration of a social-media page dubbed "The Vagina Monologues" and with drawings and other images that resembled female genitalia had attracted the ire of authorities.

She was charged with producing and distributing pornographic material and prosecutors said at the time that they sought a 38-month prison sentence in the case.

Tsvetkova's trial began in April 2021 after a nearly 1 1/2-year investigation during which she was fined for spreading LGBT "propaganda" and put under house arrest.

The trial was held behind closed doors because prosecutors said they needed to show the images as evidence.

In June, the Justice Ministry added Tsvetkova to its list of "foreign agents."

Amnesty International has said the case against Tsvetkova amounts to political repression and "Kafkaesque absurdity."

An exhibition of Tsvetkova's paintings opened this week at the Le Pangolin space in Marseille, France, and included a roundtable on the history of art and censorship of the female body.


Kherson Governor Says Hospitals Evacuated 'Due To Constant Shelling' Amid Rising Death Toll In City

Doctors operate on 13-year-old Artur Voblikov inside a hospital in Kherson, southern Ukraine, on November 22.

The governor of the embattled Kherson region of southeastern Ukraine said on November 25 that "due to constant shelling" officials have evacuated hospital patients from several facilities, while another official there blamed dozens of deaths on Russian shelling the same day.

Halyna Luhova, head of the Kherson city military administration, said 15 Kherson city residents had been killed by Russian shelling during the day and 35 more injured, including a child.

Luhova said via social media that multiple private homes and high-rise buildings had been damaged in the Russian bombing.

Governor Yaroslav Yanushevych said via the regional administration's Telegram channel earlier in the day that children from a Kherson regional facility had been transported to Mykolayiv, about 60 kilometers away.

He said other transferees included psychiatric patients, with around 100 people expected to get treatment in the Black Sea port city farther west, Odesa.

He said some of the transfers would last "as long as enemy strikes are being repeated in Kherson."

IN PHOTOS: As Russian forces continue to shell the recently liberated city of Kherson, doctors have been struggling to work with little water, electricity, and poor equipment.

Yanusevich also said residents in the city -- which was recaptured by Ukrainian forces earlier this month after months of occupation and has been targeted by long-range aerial attacks on infrastructure and civilian targets -- could contact authorities to request evacuation "to safer regions of Ukraine."

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy this week cited constant reports of shelling of Kherson, the only regional hub that Russian forces had managed to overrun since the start of the nine-month full-scale invasion.

Much of the country remains without power, water, and fuel following massive bombardments by Russian missile attacks in recent weeks.

Yanusevich also notified residents on November 25 that two mobile-phone operators, Kyivstar and Vodafone, had managed to restore the functioning of two base stations in the Kherson region, allowing for voice and Internet services.

With reporting by AFP

Serb Police Say Man Shot In Border Town Clash Between Migrants

Meanwhile, police rounded up migrants and refugees from a park in Belgrade on November 25.

One man was shot and wounded and a number of others were detained following reports of a clash between migrants in a northern Serbian town on the border with Hungary, police said on November 25. Police said they found a 20-year-old man shot twice in the chest after responding late on November 24 to calls from Horgos residents that groups of migrants were shooting at each other in the town. Six others were also found at the scene. To read the original story by AP, click here.


EU Delays Talks On Russian Oil Price Cap Until Next Week

A man works at PKN Orlen's main oil refinery in Plock, Poland.

A meeting of EU government representatives scheduled for late on November 25 to discuss a Group of Seven (G7) proposal to cap Russian seaborne oil prices was canceled, EU diplomats said. "There was not enough of a convergence of views," one diplomat said. A day earlier, EU governments were split on the level at which to cap Russian oil prices to curb Moscow's ability to pay for its war in Ukraine without causing a global oil supply shock. The cap is to enter into force on December 5. To read the original story by Reuters, click here.

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