Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Romania prepares for influx as war intensifies

More than 4.7 million refugees have fled the warzone in Ukraine. And a significant proportion have ended up in Romania, a country of some 20 million.

Romania accepts Ukrainian refugees without unnecessary formalities under a simplified procedure. Six refugee centers have been set up in the country, located in Timisoara, Maramures, Suceava, Giurgiu, Tulcea and Bucharest. Furthermore the Romanian government accommodates mothers with children from Ukraine free of charge.

More than 650,000 refugees have crossed the border into Romania with a significant number arriving at the Gare du Nord in Bucharest.

It is here that 'Dodo', a paramedic, has helped set up facilities to make their arrival more comfortable, much without government help.

Dodo, his real name Teodor, has almost single handedly taken over several rooms in the station and set up food kitchens, bathrooms, bedrooms and facilities for desperate refugees, many of which are women with young children.

Dodo proudly showed us around the store rooms packed with donations ranging from nappies to food and water.

And of course there was the army of volunteers, some of them refugees themselves such as Lena from Odessa.

It is Odessa that many have come from in recent weeks as Russia pushes it's way along the coast of the Black Sea.

One crossing poin is Isaccea in southern Romania that borders with Ukraine, split by the River Danube.

On Tuesday this week, around two months after the war began, hundreds of civilians were still crossing by ferry, greeted by volunteers, firefighters, paramedics and police officers.

Mostly women and children, some with their pets, and clutching what few possessions they could carry, entered Romania, happy to have escaped but equally sad to have fled their homeland.

Unfortunately, with Russia pushing further east and bombardments beginning in Lviv for the first time earlier this week, the numbers fleeing into Romania are likely to increase.

Being eyewitness to this influx of humanity is desperately sad, and something that both pictures and television reports cannot fully convey.

tvnewswatch, Bucharest, Romania

Sunday, April 17, 2022

Refugees give up on UK & return to warzone

Refugees are reportedly giving up on the UK's  Homes for Ukraine visa scheme and returning to the war zone in Ukraine after running out of money and patience as they wait for their visa applications to be approved [BBC/Telegraph/iNews/Sky News].

Of the few that have managed to fight through the minefield of red tape, some are finding themselves homeless due to relationship breakdowns with their sponsors and problems accessing accommodation. A total of 144 Ukrainian households have approached 57 councils after becoming homeless after arriving in the UK under both schemes, the Local Government Association (LGA) has revealed [Metro].

Britain has arguably provided strong military support to Ukraine and has stood alongside President Volodymyr Zelenskyy with resolute support in his battle against Russian aggression. While Boris Johnson's recent visit to Kyiv might be dismissed as a publicity stunt, it was well received in Ukraine itself.

But Britain has failed abysmally in processing and welcoming refugees. More than 4.7 million mostly women and children have left the country since hostilities began. And while only a few thousand have sought to get to Britain, red tape and bureaucracy has thwarted their efforts.

Sir Edward Leigh, the Conservative MP for Gainsborough, has himself faced a backlash after having told the Commons "we have done our bit" on immigration from Eastern Europe. 

He said migration from the region had already led to "extreme pressure in terms of housing and jobs". 

His own constituents were not impressed however. "As a Lincolnshire resident, he absolutely does not speak for me. No-one has 'done their bit' until each of the most basic of human needs - food, warmth and shelter are met for everyone, regardless of race or nationality," one Lincolnshire resident told the BBC.

Unfortunately, few Britain's have been able to 'do their bit' as refugees have faced an uphill struggle to get into the country.

tvnewswatch, London, UK.

Monday, April 04, 2022

Lives torn apart by a senseless war

Dmitry Shevchenko lives in Sumy, in North East Ukraine, or at least he did. You are unlikely to have heard of Dmitry. But Shurap had some 945,000 subscribers to his YouTube channel where he would display his blacksmith skills, forging beautiful knives from discarded scraps of metal, ball bearings and even empty armour piercing rounds.

But Shurap has not posted a video in little over a month, specifically 19th February - just five days before Russian tanks rolled into the country.

Hopefully Dmitry is fine and providing useful support to the Ukrainian military with his metallurgical skills.

But it does not look good for those living in Sumy which has been all but levelled by Russian bombardment [Channel 4 News].

Dmitry Shevchenko's plight is just one of many. People lost in the fog of war. Detached by failed telecommunications services and Internet connectivity.

In South East Ukraine is another sad story, that of Lyudmila Semernya, the head of a primary school in Mariupol. She became a victim of this senseless war, killed by shrapnel on the 4th March.

Anyone who has young children will know how they bond with their teachers. Many of the children from school No.5 on the outskirts of Mariupol will hopefully have fled the devastated city. But imagine how they will feel to learn about the death of one of their favourite teachers. They may already have learned that Lyudmila has died, not from a sudden illness or tragic accident, but as a direct result of Putin's bloody war. Children, already reeling from having to flee their homes, and fathers left to fight Russia's invading army, will have to suffer a further psychological blow [Twitter / Channel 4 News].

These are just two individuals living hundreds of kilometres apart affected by this war.

But there are countless others, the names of which may never be known.

Such as those in Bucha, a town to the north west of Kyiv where hundreds of civilians were found dead on the streets as Ukrainian troops moved in over the weekend.

Mayor Anatoly Fedoruk told the AFP news agency that following Ukrainian forces retaking the commuter town, the streets were found littered with bodies.

"In Bucha, we have already buried 280 people in mass graves," Fedoruk said, "All these people were shot, killed, in the back of the head."

He said the victims were men and women, and that he had also seen a 14-year-old boy among the dead.

Graphic video and photos of the victims circulated online. One showed a man's body with his hands tied behind his back, an open Ukrainian passport lay on the ground beside him. Another had a gaping head wound. Some reports say that some had also been beheaded or shown signs of torture prior to being sumarily executed [CBS / Al Jazeera / France24 / NYPost / BBC / Daily Mail

On the face of it war crimes clearly took place in Bucha, though evidence will have to be gathered for any subsequent trial.

And as for the names, many will sadly be forgotten. Indeed without the mass graves being excavated and each victim identified it will be virtually impossible to know either the numbers or names of those killed in Bucha.

Two that perhaps won't be forgotten are Ksjena and Maksim Iowenko, shot by Russian forces as they tried to flee the war zone. Maksim was killed as he stood with his hands raised in surrender. His wife was killed in the car. Also in the car were their six-year-old son and the elderly mother of one of Maksim's friends. Both of them survived and were eventually released by the Russian soldiers.

These are just a few of the heart-rending stories of this war, a conflict that in only 40 days has killed thousands, displaced millions and torn untold lives apart [BBC].

This is just one of many reports of Russian deliberately targeting civilians. On Thursday 3rd of March while attempting to deliver food to an animal sanctuary Anastasiia Yalanskaya, 26, was shot and killed, along with two colleagues, by Russians near the town of Bucha [Daily Mail]. 

For many people in Ukraine, life before the war was far from affluent. But most people had hopes and dreams. Hopes amongst the young that they might pursue a career as a doctor or scientist. Hopes amongst their parents of watching them grow up and get married.

Now many of the young, along with their mothers, have been scattered far and wide across Europe and beyond. Their futures are far from certain. Their hopes and dreams have been all but shattered. Most have reached a place of relative safety - should they have managed to avoid people traffickers or worse. But all will be torn, ripped apart from a once familiar life, torn from their fathers, their friends and their country.  

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Thursday, March 31, 2022

The Madman, the Geriatric and the Clown

The world stands on a precipice. It stands on a precipice of global climate change and it stands on the precipice of a world war, which could conceivably end all life on planet Earth.

Yet three major world leaders that are pivotal in turning the ship around vary between being mentally unhinged or incapable of making proper decisions.

Putting aside the existential threat of global warming, the more imminent and pressing threat is that of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, undertaken by Vladimir Putin.

The warning signs had been there for some time from the 2006 poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko, the 2014 downing of flight MH-17, the annexing of Crimea and of the Donbass region of Ukraine, the military intervention in the Syrian civil war, and the Novichok poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal in Salisbury in 2018. But following every incident the West's response has been weak and ineffective.

Putin has, for the most part, been allowed to conduct his murderous exercises while the West continued to do business with Russia with few if any repercussions.

However everything changed as Putin began to line up tanks on the border of Ukraine in February 2022. Whilst Putin claimed he was only carrying out exercises, there was a broad consensus in Western democracies that the military build-up was a prelude to an invasion of Ukraine. In response NATO began to deploy troops to Poland and other nearby NATO countries in order to deter Putin. Hindsight might have suggested that an invited force to Ukraine itself could have deterred Putin's eventual invasion on the 24th February. However, one will never know, and what one encountered since is nothing short of a catastrophe.

More than 4 million, mostly women and children, have left Ukraine since Russia's invasion whilst Russia's military has bombed major cities leaving many in rubble.

Meanwhile, the West and NATO has sat by, watching the destruction whilst appeasing itself in that it has supplied weapons to the Ukrainian army.

And as the war continues on the ground the war of words has continued.

Upon the start of the invasion, Vladimir Putin warned of chilling consequences should anyone interfere in his "special military operation".

"Whoever tries to impede us, let alone create threats for our country and its people, must know that the Russian response will be immediate and lead to consequences you have never seen in history," the Russian President Vladimir Putin said in a televised address.

This was taken by many in the West as inferring he might use nuclear weapons, resulting in lurid headlines in many tabloid newspapers.

But whilst 'Mad Vlad' - as some tabloids referred to him - seemed to be off his trolley, some leaders in the West were not being exactly cautious in what they were saying publicly.

NATO and its allies were clear that it would not move into Ukraine to take on Russia.  "The idea that we're gonna send in offensive equipment and have planes and tanks and trains going in with American pilots and American crews... that's called World War Three, OK?" US President Joe Biden told members of the Press on the 11th March.

Whether or not Biden, NATO or the West, were willing to take the fight to Putin, it was clearly not a good move to let the Russian leader know what one's red lines were.

Biden has often been labelled as a 'gaffe machine'. But in a time of crisis, and especially as the world edges towards a possible global conflict, words must be handled carefully.

Yet only days later, whilst speaking to the 82nd Airborne in Poland about Ukraine, Biden said, "You're going to see when you're there, and some of you have been there, you're gonna see — you're gonna see women, young people standing in the middle — in front of a damned tank just saying, 'I'm not leaving, I'm holding my ground."

It seemed to indicate that there was a plan to send US troops into Ukraine, something which the White House was forced to clarify saying, "the president has been clear we are not sending US troops to Ukraine and there is no change in that position."

But Biden's mispeaking continued. "For God's sake, this man cannot remain in power," he was filmed saying, which he was forced to clarify. Denying that he was seeking regime change, Biden said, "I just was expressing my outrage. He shouldn't remain in power, just like, you know, bad people shouldn't continue to do bad things."

"But it doesn't mean we have a fundamental policy to do anything to take Putin down in any way." [CNN]

Barack Obama is often quoted as saying, "Don't underestimate Joe's ability to fuck things up." Which is perhaps fine in 'normal circumstances' but perhaps having someone who appears to fumble through his speeches, confuses Iran with Ukraine and isn't clear on what America's policy concerning the current conflict, isn't the best person to be in charge.

Meanwhile on this side of the Atlantic the UK prime minister was claiming to be doing the right thing by opening up Britain's doors to Ukrainian refugees fleeing the war zone.

However whilst the EU was allowing Ukrainians to cross into Europe visa free, Britain - on the grounds of 'security issues' - had put in place a visa requirement for any refugee wanting to travel to Britain. For many it required long journeys to visa centres and lengthy waits, exceeding two weeks. The paperwork required was also lengthy, running into some 30 pages with requirements of birth certificates, biometric tests and even bank statements.

"I think it's very complicated," said Katerina Ilasova, who fled her home city of Poltava after the invasion started. "I've heard lots of positive things about Britain. But for me it is too complex. So people are signing up to go to other countries that are easier to get to."

"I think it's very complex," Alyona Vinohradova, who is travelling with her 11 year old daughter, told the Guardian. "I think the UK is ensuring that all the Ukrainians don't come." [Guardian]

 It is a story much repeated and has resulted in few numbers actually managing to come to Britain [CNN].

Some two weeks after the visa scheme began it was revealed that only 2,700 visas had  been granted under the UK's Homes for Ukraine scheme while some 22,800 visas had been issued to Ukrainian refugees with family members in the UK [Guardian]. 

With more than 4 million refugees having fled Ukraine according to the UNHCR it makes Michael Gove's claim that Britain was helping the humanitarian crisis somewhat disingenuous. In what amounted to a hissy fit, Gove slammed the dispatch box and retorted to the criticism, "I have just had it up to here with people trying to suggest that this country is not generous." [Huffington Post]

During a Select Committee only yesterday [30th March] the PM was unable to give a number of those who had actually managed to get to Britain. Meanwhile, asked why a pregnant woman in Warsaw had been asked to wait until she had given birth before applying for a visa for herself and her newborn baby, Johnson could only say he would look into the matter.

It is perhaps no wonder why Johnson is looked upon as a joke and sidelined as he attends summits. During a NATO meeting in Brussels the PM looked lost and ignored as those around him chatted and shook hands.

Macron only a few short months ago referred to Boris Johnson as a clown while a former Finnish PM, Alexander Stubb, ridiculed the idea that Boris Johnson was one of Vladimir Putin's fiercest opponents. Only in "Brexit la la land" was the British PM seen as having "taken a lead globally" Stubb is quoted as saying [City AM]. 

Recently Boris Johnson was asked for his reaction to reports that he had become the Kremlin's public enemy number one [Washington Times]. "I am not remotely anti-Russian" Johnson responded before adding that he was the first UK prime minister with the name Boris [Bloomberg - Twitter] .

The true statesman in all of this is Volodymir Zelenskyy, ironically a former comedian turned president of Ukraine. He has worked tirelessly throughout the conflict to bring his people together whilst standing by them, refusing to flee the country despite being Moscow's no. 1 target. Indeed Zelenskyy reportedly said, "The fight is here; I need ammunition, not a ride," when the US offered to get him out of the country as the war began.

tvnewswatch, London, UK


Monday, March 14, 2022

Anti-War protester interruption of Russian TV a watershed moment

On the 14th March 2022 Marina Ovsyannikova (Russian: Марина Овсянникова), a Russian TV producer, burst on the screens of the main evening news on the Russia-1 TV channel. Holding a placard she stood behind the news anchor, Ekaterina Andreeva, before the broadcast was stopped and Ovsyannikova was arrested.

It is perhaps the most high profile anti-war protest that would have been seen by millions across Russia. The placard carried a simple message, part English and part Russian. 

"NO WAR", the placard proclaimed, while the Russian read ОСТАНОВИТЬ ВОИНУ  - Stop the War - НЕ ВЕРЬТЕ ПРОПАГАНДЕ - Don't Believe the Propaganda - ЭДЕСЬ ВАМ ВРУТ - You are being lied to. It ended with an English sentence "Russians Against War."

Earlier Ovsyannikova posted a video condemning the war which has been widely shared on social media [Twitter].

Some eighteen days into Russia's incursion into Ukraine there have been thousands of arrests as ordinary, mostly young, Russians protest against Russia's illegal war [BBC / Al Jazeera / Al Jazeera]. However, bar those who have directly witnessed such protests, few in Russia with be unaware of the disent on the streets. 

Moreover many Russian are reportedly still believing the government line that Putin is carrying out a 'special operation' to 'de-nazify' Ukraine [Reuters]. 

Few are seeing the the destruction wrought on Ukraine by the Russian military, have little knowledge of the hundreds, possibly thousands of civilians killed, nor even the casualties amongst their own fighting troops. Neither is there much awareness of the plight of more than 2.7 million refugees that have fled the country thus far. There is also little awareness either of the protests around the globe. Nor will many be aware of Putin's veiled threat of the use of nuclear weapons [Daily MailGuardian] and the UN Secretary General's concern as he expressed the view that nuclear conflict was "within the realm of possibility. [Reuters]"

Of course few can have failed to notice the effects of widespread sanctions imposed by the West following Russia's invasion on the 24th February. The Ruble has collapsed and is worth less than half its value in the last two weeks. Western broadcasters have pulled out of the country and McDonalds, Coca Cola and hundreds of other western brands have shut shop [NPR]. 

With a blackout of information and even harsh sentences for possessing material critical of Putin's war,  Marina Ovsyannikova's TV news protest is significant and could be a watershed moment in the propaganda war.

This is the full statement posted by Marina Ovsyannikova prior to her brief live protest on Russian TV news: 

"What's happening in Ukraine is a crime, and Russia is the aggressor. The responsibility for this aggression lies with one man: Vladimir Putin. My father is Ukrainian, my mother is Russian, and they were never enemies. This necklace [shows] Russia must stop this fratricidal war."

"Unfortunately, for the last few years I've been working for Channel One. I've been doing Kremlin propaganda and I'm very ashamed of it – that I let people lie from TV screens and allowed the Russian people to be zombified."

"We didn't say anything in 2014 when it only just began. We didn't protest when the Kremlin poisoned Navalny. We just silently watched this inhuman regime. Now the whole world has turned away from us, and ten generations of our descendants won't wash off this fratricidal war."

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Monday, February 28, 2022

War in Ukraine and the threat of WWIII

In the last week the world has been witness to scenes reminiscent of the beginnings of World War II as Russia invaded Ukraine.

Up to half a million people have fled the country as bombs rained down on cities across the country. Roads have been blocked with cars, many running out of fuel well before reaching the borders of Poland, Slovakia and Hungary before being abandoned, their occupants forced to abandon them and walk the rest of the way. Others have attempted to flee by train. Pictures showed packed platforms and trains heading for the border with people desperate  to escape.

After weeks of a military buildup on the Belarusian and Russian border with Ukraine the invasion began on Thursday 24th February 2022. The threat had been clear for some time with the White House saying the invasion was imminent for more than a week before the day came.

Many likened the move to Hitler's invasion of Poland or Czechoslovakia in 1939. But while there were certainly disconcerting similarities as Putin rolled out his plan to rebuild the former soviet empire.

Ukraine has had to fight the Russians alone, albeit with military aid from European and US allies. Not being a part of NATO, nor a member of the EU, other countries have been reluctant to give direct support in order to exacerbate the situation and avoid precipitating a wider conflict.

Putin's veiled threats of using nuclear weapons have also caused NATO members to pause and not go further.

The main weapon being employed is sanctions which have had some effect in degrading   the Russian financial system. BP and Shell have pulled out of projects [Guardian]

Governments too have imposed restrictions. The EU banned all Russian flights over its airspace and banned many financial institutions from using Swift, an international banking system as well as targeting named Russian oligarchs [Guardian / FT].  The US and UK have also imposed similar sanctions [Al Jazeera]. And less than a week after the invasion the usually neutral Switzerland also imposed sanctions on Russia [Guardian].

The effect has crippled Russia's financial system to the point that the Rouble collapsed on Monday [28th February] dropping 30% and forcing Russia to increase interest rates from 9% to 20% and prompting the stock market to be closed to trading [Reuters].

It is unclear whether the sanctions will force Russia to pull out. Indeed much is down to Putin who has been described as 'unhinged' by many including James Clapper, former Director of National Intelligence of the United States. Macron is said to have described Putin as much 'stiffer and more isolated' than what he'd seen in previous encounters [CNN].

This is all the more unnerving. Should the war escalate and draw in NATO, there is a risk that Putin could unleash his stockpile of nuclear weapons [FT].

Even aside these risks there is a concern that a widening conflict could create further complications with the likes of China, India and the UAE all of which abstained in a recent security council vote at the UN and which have strong financial, trade and military ties with Russia.

While hundreds have certainly died on both sides, it seems clear that Putin's invasion isn't going as swiftly as he might have expected. But a military failure or slowing down of military success could result in Putin lashing out with more destructive weapons.

It is still early days which even the British government appeared to acknowledge today as the foreign secretary Liz Truss told the UK Parliament the war could last months or years. This certainly has all the makings of a third world war.

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Monday, January 31, 2022

No Brexit benefits on second anniversary

Today, on the second anniversary of Britain's leaving the EU, Boris Johnson vowed to implement a plan to overhaul EU laws copied over after Brexit which he insisted would encourage businesses to invest in the UK. The prime minister said a "Brexit Freedoms Bill" would make it easier to change thousands of EU-era regulations that remain in force.

Post-Brexit 'red tape' - customs forms and regulations that apply to all countries outside the EU - has resulted in massive queues exceeding 10 km at the port of Dover, though there has been little press coverage since the chaos began soon after the new regulations were implemented on the 1st January this year. Similar queues have also been seen near Calais for lorries trying to enter the UK. Brexit has seen losses in many sectors for those living in the UK. In January 2020 the credit card giant Mastercard announced it would raise the fees it charges EU merchants when UK cardholders bought goods and services from them online by fivefold.

Shortages of EU workers - many of whom returned home after Brexit - has seen knock-on effects in deliveries, veterinary shortages and fuel shortages over the past two years since the UK left the EU.

But while the British press has largely ignored many Brexit repercussions, Britain's reputation abroad has been damaged with foreign papers almost revelling in schadenfreude.

There were many predictions prior to Britain's leaving the EU, from Lord Buckhead's "Brexit will be a shitshow" to predictions that inflation and costs for consumers would rise. Most have been realised two years after the UK's departure from the EU.

In November 2020 it was reported that Brexit would deliver a 4% long-term hit to the UK's GDP, or to put it another way the UK's Brexit losses will be more than 178 times bigger than trade deal gains, this from the government's own figures.

Due to the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic many Brexit repercussions have been hidden from public view. However, as the world begins to return to 'normal' the disaster will be less easy to hide. UK tourists will begin to notice repercussions as travel becomes more difficult and costly with increased queues at borders, roaming fees & red tape with visa requirements for travel to the continent. The headlines will continue over time concerning Brexit repercussions but few of them will be uplifting.

Today's papers, two years after the UK's departure from the EU, were a mixed bag with the Daily Mail and Daily Express promoting the PM's plan to bring about Brexit benefits while others headlined with tax rises, inflation and burglary figures. Tomorrow will be less focused on the sunny uplands of Brexit. Instead most papers will be embroiled in reporting the theatre that took place in parliament today as Boris Johnson attempted to explain away the much redacted Sue Gray report into the so-called partygate affair examining the drinking and party culture that took place at Number 10 throughout the pandemic and when much of the country was in lookdown. Another exercise in kicking a political can down the road.

tvnewswatch, London, UK