During crisis, rebels in Ukraine evacuate civilians to Russia

KYIV, Ukraine (AP), Increasing tensions in eastern Ukraine Friday aggravated Western concerns about a Russian invasion. A humanitarian convoy was hit by shelling, and pro-Russian rebels evacuated civilians from the conflict area. Although there were no reported casualties, a car bombing struck Donetsk in eastern Ukraine.

During crisis, rebels in Ukraine evacuate civilians to Russia

During crisis, rebels in Ukraine evacuate civilians to Russia

KYIV, Ukraine (AP), Increasing tensions in eastern Ukraine Friday aggravated Western concerns about a Russian invasion. A humanitarian convoy was hit by shelling, and pro-Russian rebels evacuated civilians from the conflict area. Although there were no reported casualties, a car bombing struck Donetsk in eastern Ukraine.

To demonstrate its military might, the Kremlin announced massive nuclear drills. President Vladimir Putin promised to defend Russia's national interests from Western threats. The U.S. and European leaders meanwhile tried to find ways to preserve the peace and Europe’s post-Cold War security system.

Putin remained open to diplomacy but a series of events this week has further escalated East-West tensions. These concerns have been exacerbated by this week's actions: U.S. officials and European officials focused on the estimated 150,000 Russian troops stationed around Ukraine's borders. They warn that the long-running separatist conflict in Ukraine could spark a wider attack. Kamala Harris, the U.S. Vice President, stated that while the U.S. hopes Russia will deescalate, it is prepared to hit it with harsh sanctions in the event of an attack. This week, the U.S. leaders issued their most severe warnings to date that Moscow could order an attack on Ukraine anytime.

Harris stated that while "we remain, of course," diplomacy is still open and desirable. However, Harris also said that if Russia moves aggressively, we will take severe consequences.

Russia did not attend this year's conference. However, communication lines remain open. The U.S. defense chiefs and the Russian defense chiefs spoke on Friday. According to the Pentagon, Lloyd Austin, U.S. Defense Secretary, called for de-escalation and the return of Russian forces around Ukraine to their base. Next week, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Secretary of State Antony Blinken will meet.

The immediate concern is for eastern Ukraine where pro-Russian rebels have been fighting Ukrainian forces since 2014. This conflict has claimed the lives of approximately 14,000 people.

According to an Associated Press journalist, a bomb struck a car near the main government building of Donetsk's eastern city. According to Interfax, Denis Sinenkov (head of separatists' forces), claimed that the car was his. There were no reports of casualties or independent confirmation of the circumstances. Uniformed men looked at the car after it was destroyed. The area was littered with broken glass.

While shelling and shooting are common along this line, which separates Ukrainian forces from the rebels' forces, targeted violence is rare in rebel-held cities such as Donetsk.

The explosion and evacuations were however in line with U.S. warnings about false-flag strikes that Russia could use to justify an invasion. The U.S. State Department stated that Blinken had on Thursday warned of "this kind of false flag operation" at the U.N Security Council.

Separatists from the Luhansk, Donetsk and Donbas regions of Ukraine that make up the industrial heartland called the Donbas announced they were evacuating civilians for Russia. This announcement was made by Moscow to counter Western warnings about a Russian invasion and portray Ukraine as the aggressor.

Denis Pushilin is the head of the Donetsk rebel governments. He claimed that women, children, and the elderly would be first and that Russia has provided facilities. Pushilin claimed in a video that Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the Ukrainian President, was about to call for an immediate offensive in the region.

Children were moved from Donetsk's orphanage and others boarded buses to Russia by authorities. As more people left on their own, long lines formed at gas stations.

Putin directed his emergency minister to fly to Rostov, bordering Ukraine, to organize the exodus. He also ordered that the government offer 10,000 rubles ($130) each evacuee. This is roughly half the average monthly salary in war-ravaged Donbas.

Ukraine denies planning an offensive. Dmytro Kuleba, Foreign Minister, stated that Ukraine "does not plan or conduct any such actions in Donbas."

He tweeted, "We are fully dedicated to diplomatic conflict resolution only."

According to Ukraine's military chief, rebel shelling occurred in the Luhansk area around the volatile line of contact. There were no casualties. The rebels denied any involvement and accused Ukraine for staging a provocative act.

Separatist authorities have reported that Ukrainian forces are continuing to shell the area. Dmitry Peskov, a Kremlin spokesperson, said that the situation was "potentially very hazardous." On Thursday, a surge of shelling ripped through the walls of a kindergarten. Two children were injured and communications were disrupted. Both sides claimed that the other had opened fire.

U.S. and European officials are on alert for Russian attempts to launch a false flag operation. According to a Western official, intelligence reports suggest that Ukrainian officials received intelligence suggesting that the Russians could attempt to attack the Luhansk region occupied by separatists. This was in an effort to give false reasons to military action. The official could not comment publicly.

Antonio Guterres, U.N. Secretary General, stated that the threat to global security has become "more complex and likely higher" than it was during the Cold War. He said that even a minor error or miscommunication could lead to catastrophic consequences for major powers.

Although Russia has announced that it will be withdrawing its forces from large military exercises that raised fears of an invasion, U.S. officials said they don't see any sign of a pullback and instead saw more troops heading towards the border with Ukraine.

Austin stated that the U.S. believes Russia can launch an attack at any time.

The U.S. government provided new estimates Friday on how many Russian military personnel are in Ukraine and its surrounding areas. According to Michael Carpenter (the permanent U.S. representative at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe), the government estimates that there are 169,000 to 190,000. This is an increase of about 100,000 personnel from Jan. 30.

This new estimate includes troops in the border area, in Belarus and in occupied Crimea, as well as Russian National Guard and other security units deployed in these areas, and Russian-backed forces within eastern Ukraine. The previous estimate by the U.S. of 150,000 did not include the separatists in Ukraine, the Russian National Guard, and the troops in Crimea.

The Kremlin sent a message to the world announcing weekend drills for its nuclear forces. Putin will be watching the massive exercise that will include multiple practice missile launches.

This move was more important than Russian diplomatic offers to help defuse Ukraine's crisis.

Although the Kremlin claims it does not intend to invade, the Kremlin has asked the West to keep Ukraine from NATO and to reduce the number of alliance forces in Eastern Europe. These demands were firmly rejected by Western allies.

Putin responded to a question about Western warnings that Russia might invade Ukraine on Wednesday, but it didn't happen.

He stated, "We are doing the right thing and will continue to do so." "We have specific and clear goals that conform to national interests."

Putin reiterated that Russia is open to dialogue with the West regarding confidence-building measures, provided that these are discussed alongside Moscow's primary security concerns.

NATO allies are also showing their strength by bolstering Eastern European military forces, but insist that these actions are defensive and are meant to show unity in the face Russian threats.

The U.S. has announced that it will sell 250 tanks to Poland for $6 billion. Poland is a NATO member and has been attacked or occupied by Russia in the recent past.

Munich: World leaders warned that Europe's security is at risk. German Foreign Minister Annalena Bock stated that the situation "calls into question the fundamental principles of the European Peace Order."

Biden was scheduled to talk by phone with trans-Atlantic leaders Friday about the crisis, continued efforts at diplomacy and deterrence, and to make a speech on the matter.

Kim Potter sentenced for 2 years in Daunte Frank's Death

MINNEAPOLIS (AP), Kim Potter, a former Minneapolis police officer who claimed she mistook her Taser for her handgun when she fatally shot Daunte Witter, was sentenced Friday at 2 years in prison. Wright's family criticized the sentence for being too light and accused the judge, Kim Potter, of being "taken in by a white woman's tears."

In December, Potter was convicted of first-degree and second-degree manslaughter for Wright's April 11 murder. Wright was a black motorist aged 20 years. In December, Potter was convicted of first- and second-degree manslaughter in the April 11 killing of Wright, a 20 year old Black motorist. Wright's mother Katie Wright said that Potter "murdered her son" and added: "Today, the justice system murdered him all again." After Potter's testimony, Wright accused the judge of being engulfed by "white women's tears".

Wright, who was in tears before the sentence was delivered, said that Potter had never forgiven her and that she would refer only to her as "the defendant" since Potter only called her son "the driver" during trial.

"She never said his name once. And that's something I won't be able to forgive. Wright also said that he will never forgive Wright for the things he's taken from them.

She said, "Daunte Demetrius Wayne Wright, I will continue fighting in your name until driving when Black is not longer a death sentence."

Wright's family was offered an apology by Potter, who then spoke directly to his mother, Katie: "Katie. I understand a mother’s love. My heart is broken for you all.

Judge Regina Chu, who sentenced the judge below state guidelines, described it as "one of my most saddest cases" in her 20-year tenure on the bench. Judge Regina Chu stated that she received hundreds of letters supporting Potter. "One side was the death of a young man, and the other was the tragic mistake made by a 26-year-old veteran police officer when she pulled her Taser instead of her handgun."

Chu stated that the lesser sentence was justified because Potter was "in line of duty" and trying to arrest Daunte Wright. Also, Potter was protecting another officer who could have suffered serious injuries if Wright drove off. The shooting occurred during Derek Chauvin's murder trial in George Floyd's death. It sparked protests and clashes between police and protesters for several days outside Brooklyn Center's police station.

Ben Crump, Wright's family attorney, stated that the Wright family was shocked by the sentence and said they couldn't understand how a white officer was considered in the murder of a young Black male. Justine Ruszczyk, a Black officer, received a more severe sentence for the 2017 killing of a white female.

"What we see is the legal system in Black & White."

However, the judge stated that the case was not comparable to other high-profile police killings.

"This isn't a cop who was found guilty of murder because he used his knee to hold a person down for 9 1/2 minutes while he gasped for breath. Chu stated that Chu was not guilty of manslaughter in the shooting death of his partner. Chu said, "This cop made a terrible mistake."

The state guidelines for first-degree manslaughter are slightly longer than six years, to around 8 1/2 years, for someone like Potter who has no criminal record. The presumptive sentence is just over seven years.

The presumptive sentence was correct, according to the prosecution. However, defense attorneys requested a sentence that is below the guidelines and includes a probation sentence.

Before sentencing, Prosecutor Matt Frank stated that "His life matters and that life was taken." His name is Daunte. We must say his name. He wasn't just a driver. He was a human being. He was a living being.

Paul Engh, defense attorney, told the judge Wright's death was "beyond tragic" for all involved. He said, however, that it was an unintentional offense. It was an accident. It was an accident.

Engh stated that if Potter was placed on probation, she would be open to meeting with Wright's family as well as to speaking to officers about Taser mismatches, as suggested in prosecutors.

Engh also displayed a box that contained what he claimed were "thousands of letters" and cards of support for Potter.

Engh stated that "people took the time to write her." Engh said, "This is unusual for a defendant. "I dare to say that no one in the room has ever seen anything similar."

The evidence at Potter's trial revealed that officers discovered that he was facing an outstanding warrant for a weapon possession charge. They tried to arrest him, but he fled. Potter was heard shouting several times that she would use her Taser against Wright. However, she still had her gun and shot one shot into Wright's chest.

Chu stated that Potter would serve two-thirds or 16 months of her sentence in prison with the remainder on parole. She has been granted credit for 58 days.

Potter has been in Shakopee's state-run women's prison since her guilty verdict. Her lawyer said that Potter's mental and physical health have declined since she was kept in isolation for her safety.

Wright's siblings and father addressed the court to express their grief.

Chyna Whitaker (the mother of Wright's child) stated Friday that Wright would never get the chance to play with him or to see him go to school.

Whitaker stated, "My son shouldn’t have to wear the'rest in Peace' shirt of his father."

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