Tears and hugs for the Russians summoned to fight in Ukraine

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Russia stepped up its military and political campaign on Thursday to capture Ukrainian territory, rallied Russian army reservists to fight, prepared votes on annexing occupied areas and launched deadly new attacks.

One day after President Vladimir Putin ordered a partial mobilization to reinforce its troops in Ukraine, dramatic scenes of tearful families waving goodbye to men leaving military mobilization centers in Russia appeared on social media.

A video on Twitter from the eastern Siberian city of Neryungri showed men leaving a stadium. Before boarding the buses, the men hugged family members waiting outside, many crying and some covering their mouths with their hands in pain. A man brought a boy to a bus window to take a last look at him.

In Moscow, women hugged, cried and made the sign of the cross to men at another rally point. A 25-year-old man who only gave his first name, Dmitry, received a hug from his father, who told him “Careful”, as they said goodbye.

Dmitry told the Russian media company Ostorozhno Novosti that he did not expect to be called and sent so quickly, especially since he is still a student.

“No one said anything to me in the morning. I was given preliminary notice that I was to come here at 3:00 pm We waited an hour and a half, then the enlistment officer came and said we’re leaving now,” he said. “I was like, ‘Oh great!’ I went out and started calling my parents, brother, all my friends to tell them that they are taking me.”

Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelenskyy, in some of his harshest comments yet in the nearly 7-month war, lashed out at Russians who succumb to pressure to serve in their country’s armed forces and those who have not spoken out against from the war. In his nightly video address, he switched from his usual Ukrainian language to Russian to directly tell Russian citizens that they are being “thrown to death.”

“You are already complicit in all these crimes, murders and torture of Ukrainians,” said Zelenskyy, who was wearing a black T-shirt that read “We Stand with Ukraine” in English instead of his trademark olive green T-shirt. He said the Russians’ options for survival are “to protest, to fight back, to flee, or to surrender to Ukrainian captivity.”

Western leaders derided Putin’s mobilization order as an act of weakness and desperation. More than 1,300 Russians were arrested at anti-war demonstrations on Wednesday after he issued it, according to the independent Russian human rights group OVD-Info. Organizers said more protests were planned for Saturday.

Putin’s partial call for 300,000 reservists was brief in details So much so that the Russian military announced Thursday that it had set up a call center to answer questions.

In Washington, Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder, the Pentagon’s press secretary, said the United States believes it will take time for Russia to train and equip new troops and that doing so may not solve command and control, logistics and morale problems.

Concerns about a potentially broader draft led some Russians rush to buy plane tickets for flee the country, and Zelenskyy said Thursday that the Russian army is preparing to recruit up to a million men. A Kremlin spokesman earlier denied such claims.

German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser offered concrete support to would-be defectors. She told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung that anyone who “courageously opposes the Putin regime and thereby exposes themselves to the greatest danger” can apply for asylum in Germany.

In the Kremlin’s drive to annex territory, pro-Moscow authorities in four Russian-controlled regions of Ukraine plan electoral referendums starting Friday to become part of Russia, a move that could expand the war and follows the playbook. of the Kremlin since it annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula after a similar referendum. Most of the world considers the annexation of Crimea in 2014 to be illegal.

Voting on referendums in Ukraine’s Luhansk, Kherson, Zaporizhzhia and Donetsk regions is scheduled to last until Tuesday. Foreign leaders have called the votes illegitimate and non-binding.

In Luhansk, billboards reading “With Russia Forever” and “Our Choice: Russia” appeared on the streets, while volunteers distributed ribbons in the colors of the Russian national flag and banners reading “Russia is the future. Participate in the referendum!”

On the battlefield, Russian and Ukrainian forces exchanged missile and artillery barrages as both sides refused to give ground.

Russian missile strikes in the southern city of Zaporizhzhia left one person dead and five wounded, Ukrainian officials said. Officials in the separatist-controlled city of Donetsk said Ukrainian shelling killed at least six people.

Kyrylo Tymoshenko, deputy of the office of the ukrainian president , said a hotel in Zaporizhzhia was attacked and rescuers were trying to free people trapped in the rubble. The governor of the mostly Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia region, Oleksandr Starukh, said Russian forces attacked infrastructure and damaged apartment buildings in the city, which remains in Ukrainian hands.

The mayor of the separatist-controlled city of Donetsk, Alexei Kulemzin, said Ukrainian shelling hit a covered market and a minibus. Overnight, one person was killed during Russian shelling in Nikopol, across the river from the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, according to the Dnipropetrovsk regional governor.

As hostilities continued, the two sides managed to agree on a major prisoner exchange. Ukrainian officials announced the exchange of 215 Ukrainian and foreign fighters, 200 of them for a single person, an ally of Putin. Denis Pushilin, head of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, confirmed that pro-Russian Ukrainian opposition leader Viktor Medvedchuk was part of the exchange.

Putin has repeatedly spoken of Medvedchuk as a victim of political repression. Media reports alleged that before Russia’s invasion, Medvedchuk was one of the leading candidates to head a puppet government that the Kremlin hoped to install in Ukraine.

Among the freed fighters were Ukrainian defenders of a steel plant in Mariupol during a lengthy Russian siege, along with 10 foreigners, including five British citizens and two US military veterans, who had fought with Ukrainian forces. Some of those released had faced death sentences in Russian-occupied areas.

A video on the BBC news website on Thursday showed two of the freed British men, Aiden Aslin and Shaun Pinner, talking inside a plane as they headed home.

“We just want everyone to know that we are now out of the danger zone and on our way home to our families,” Aslin said in the video, while Pinner added, “By the skin of our teeth.”

The nonprofit Presidium Network, which is helping to provide aid to Kyiv, said Aslin, Pinner and three other Britons were safe at home and reunited with their families on Thursday.

The continuation of Russian missile attacks and the beginning of a partial mobilization of Russians in the armed forces suggested that the Kremlin was seeking to dispel any notions of weakness or diminished resolve to achieve its wartime goals in the light of of recent battlefield losses and other setbacks.

Increasing tensions, a senior Kremlin official on Thursday repeated Putin’s threat to use nuclear weapons if Russian territory is attacked.

Dmitry Medvedev, deputy head of the Russian Security Council, said that strategic nuclear weapons are one of the options to safeguard Russian-controlled territories in eastern and southern Ukraine. The comment appeared to serve as a warning that Moscow might also target Ukraine’s Western allies.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken responded Thursday, asking all members of the Council of UN Security that they “send a clear message” to Russia that it must stop its nuclear threats.

Russia’s neighbors have been nervous about a possible threat from Russia. Estonia said training exercises began on Thursday for nearly 2,900 reservists and volunteers, apparently against Moscow’s announcement of partial military mobilization.

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