BBC 2024-02-25 16:31:49


Ukraine war: Zelensky says 31,000 troops killed

Ukraine’s president says 31,000 soldiers have been killed since Russia’s full-scale invasion began.

Volodymyr Zelensky said he would not give the number of wounded as that would help Russian military planning.

Typically, Ukrainian officials do not make public the numbers of servicepeople killed in the war.

It comes after the defence minister said half of all Western aid for Ukraine has been delayed, costing lives and territory.

“At the moment, commitment does not constitute delivery,” Rustam Umerov said in a televised address on Sunday.

Ukraine is currently experiencing a variety of setbacks in its mission to drive Russia from its territory.

Mr Umerov said that the lack of supplies put Ukraine at a further disadvantage “in the mathematics of war”.

“We do everything possible and impossible but without timely supply it harms us,” he said.

German Defence Minister Boris Pistorius warned in November that plans to deliver a million artillery shells by March would not be met.

In January, the European Union (EU) said just over half of these would reach Ukraine by the deadline and that the full promised amount would not be there until the end of 2024.

The EU’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, blamed a lack of production capacity but Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said allies had been stepping this up.

Ukrainian forces have often complained of shortages in their war with Russia.

President Volodymyr Zelensky said one of the reasons Ukraine’s highly anticipated counter-offensive did not start earlier last year was the lack of weapons.

That counter-offensive largely failed – one of a number of setbacks Kyiv has faced after some early successes in repelling Russia after it invaded in February 2022.

Last week, it was announced that troops had withdrawn from the key eastern town of Avdiivka – Moscow’s biggest win in months.

Mr Zelensky also blamed this partly on faltering Western weapon supplies.

The Biden administration, meanwhile, has said the hold-up in Congress of a $60bn aid package for Ukraine led to the fall of the town.

Despite the delay, Ukraine’s prime minister sounded an optimistic note.

“We are deeply convinced that the United States will not abandon Ukraine in terms of both financial support and military, armed support,” Denys Shmyal said on Sunday.

His comments come after Mr Zelensky pressed members of the G7 – the world’s richest democracies – to increase their “vital support” in order for his country to win the war.

“You know perfectly well that we need all this in time, and we count on you,” he said at a virtual meeting.

Western leaders travelled to Kyiv on Saturday in a show of solidarity with Ukraine as the country marked two years since Russia’s full-scale invasion.

There, it was announced that Italy and Canada had signed security deals with Ukraine – bolstering support until the country could join Nato.

Canada’s deal included more than three billion Canadian dollars (£1.7bn) in financial and defence aid.

It is not only Ukraine that is having trouble resourcing its military activities. Russia is also struggling to provide ammunition and weapons, according to Western officials.

“Russia’s domestic ammunition production capabilities are currently insufficient for meeting the needs of the Ukraine conflict,” a Western official claimed.

They added that Moscow has been able to increase its supply only by seeking out alternative sources of ammunition and weapons, which do not offer a long-term solution.

Meanwhile, the head of Ukraine’s security service said on Sunday that 47 Russian spy networks operating within Ukraine were uncovered last year.

Vasyl Maliuk added that more than 2,000 suspected “traitors” have been arrested since Russia’s full-scale invasion.

Alexei Navalny: Dissent is dangerous in Russia, but activists refuse to give up

Following the death of the Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, another political prisoner is trying to keep the hope of change alive – even from behind bars.

“Freedom costs dearly,” the opposition activist Vladimir Kara-Murza once wrote to me from a Russian prison cell.

He was quoting his political mentor, Boris Nemtsov, who was murdered in 2015 in Moscow – right beside the Kremlin.

Now Russian President Vladimir Putin’s biggest rival, Alexei Navalny, is dead.

  • Alexei Navalny: What we know about his death
  • Rosenberg: Dissent takes courage – and Navalny supporters are defiant
  • Navalny’s body returned to mother, spokeswoman says

The price of political opposition has never been higher in modern Russia or the goal of change so remote.

Such is the fear of reprisal that Navalny’s death did not spark mass, angry protests. Several hundred people were detained just for laying flowers in his memory.

But Mr Kara-Murza refuses to abandon either his fight or his hope.

This week he urged opposition supporters to “work even harder” to achieve what Navalny and Nemtsov had fought for: the chance to live in a free country.

He made his own choice, long ago. “The price of speaking out is high,” the activist wrote to me, soon after his arrest in 2022.

“But the price of silence is unacceptable.”

Strong men

Alexei Navalny, who was 47, and Vladimir Kara-Murza, 42, are very different men.

Navalny was a social-media phenomenon, a charismatic speaker with some of the egotism of a natural-born leader.

Mr Kara-Murza is a softly spoken intellectual – more back-room lobbyist than crowd-gatherer.

He’s not a household name in Russia even now.

But both men shared the same drive and a conviction that Putin’s Russia was not eternal and political freedom was possible.

Whilst Navalny produced video exposés of corruption at the highest level of power, Mr Kara-Murza lobbied Western governments for sanctions to target officials’ assets and cash stashed abroad.

Both have paid dearly.

In 2015, five years before Navalny was attacked with a nerve agent, Mr Kara-Murza collapsed and fell into a coma.

Two years later, it happened again. Tests in the US confirmed he had been poisoned.

But he never stopped speaking his mind, which included denouncing Mr Putin’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

Last year, Mr Kara-Murza was sentenced to 25 years for treason – although the charge sheet listed nothing but peaceful opposition activity.

Return to Russia

When Alexei Navalny chose to fly back to Russia in 2021 after an attempt to kill him, some thought him foolhardy.

Opposition figures who’ve chosen exile over imprisonment argue that sacrifice with no prospect of change is futile.

Navalny thought differently.

“If your beliefs are worth something, you have to be prepared to stand up for them. And if necessary, make some sacrifices,” he wrote shortly before he died on 16 February.

Vladimir Kara-Murza, like Navalny, has a wife and children. He also has residency in the US and a British passport. But he never hesitated about returning to Russia.

“I didn’t think I had the right to continue my political activity, to call other people to action, if I was sitting safely somewhere else,” Mr Kara-Murza wrote to me in 2022, already in prison.

For both men, it was an act of conscience.

Now one is dead and the other is locked up far from his family who’ve only been allowed one phone call in six months.

“I didn’t speak to him myself because I didn’t want to take time away from the kids,” Evgenia Kara-Murza described that call.

The activist’s wife allowed the three children five minutes each.

“I was standing there with a timer,” she said.

Strong women

This week, Navalny’s widow recorded a video statement urging his allies not to give up.

“I want to live in a free Russia, I want to build a free Russia,” said Yulia Navalnaya, vowing to continue her husband’s work.

  • Navalny’s widow faces daunting challenge
  • Navalny’s grieving widow vows to continue his work

Evgenia Kara-Murza was stunned by her bravery. “She’s doing her absolute best to go through hell with her head held high and she is amazing.”

But Mr Kara-Murza’s wife has taken on a demanding role of her own.

Since his arrest in April 2022, she’s been travelling the world, lobbying Western officials to help her husband and other political prisoners, and denouncing Russia’s war on Ukraine.

The invasion is more proof, as she puts it, of Putin’s “murderous regime”.

When we spoke, Evgenia was about to fly back to the US to see their children. She was then heading for London to call on UK ministers to step-up their efforts for Vladimir, a joint British-Russian citizen.

“I want them to be more forceful in trying to get him out, and demanding proper medical attention,” she said.

“But making one government care about its citizen is hard these days.”

Prison persecution

Mr Kara-Murza’s persecution has continued in prison, as it did for Navalny.

The activist has been held in solitary confinement for months and allowed no personal belongings, even photographs of his children.

In January, he was moved to a new prison with tougher conditions, deprived even of his books.

His health, damaged by the poisoning, is deteriorating. Pressure for Mr Kara-Murza’s release has intensified since Navalny’s death.

“The nerve damage is spreading to his right side now. It’s a serious condition that could lead to paralysis,” Evgenia Kara-Murza told me.

This week, she got a rare sighting of her husband on video link from prison to a Moscow court. He was trying to get the Investigative Committee to open a criminal case into his poisoning.

Mr Kara-Murza was in a black uniform that hung loose on his frame, a radical change from the Tweed jackets that were once his trademark.

But his resolve seemed firmer than ever as he urged Russians not to slump into despair.

“We don’t have that right,” he addressed the few supporters and reporters allowed into court, and he insisted that Russia would be free.

“No-one can stop the future.”

What future?

Evgenia Kara-Murza watched that video clip from court “a thousand times”.

“I think he’s doing the right thing – and a great thing,” she told me.

“People feel heartbroken and demoralised and those uplifting words from people who’ve refused to give in to pressure and intimidation are truly important.”

“I’m very proud of Vladimir for staying true to himself, despite this hell.”

Evgenia shares her husband’s faith in the future, as well as his strength. Even now, with so many activists in prison or exile.

“What’s crucially important is remaining a human being and trying to do whatever you can,” she argues.

“Not giving up.”

She points to the end of the USSR and the mass protests then that have always inspired her husband.

“There was nothing – until an opportunity for massive collective action appeared in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Then people went out on the streets,” she says.

“We need to do everything possible to be ready for the moment when the regime shows cracks.”

“For when we get that chance.”

South Carolina primary: Donald Trump easily defeats Nikki Haley in her home state

Donald Trump is one step closer to the Republican presidential nomination after a massive win over Nikki Haley in South Carolina.

The former president won his primary opponent’s home state by a 20-point margin, his fourth consecutive victory.

As he celebrated, Mr Trump made no mention of Ms Haley, who vowed to stay in the race. Instead he set his sights on the general election in November.

That will be a likely rematch with his successor in the White House.

“We’re going to look Joe Biden right in the eye,” he told supporters minutes after US media projected him as the winner on Saturday night.

“He’s destroying our country – and we’re going to say ‘get out Joe, you’re fired’.”

Mr Trump lauded his party’s “unity” after Saturday’s result, saying: “There’s never been a spirit like this. I have never seen the Republican Party so unified.”

It marked a shift from his response to last month’s primary in New Hampshire, where he raged against Ms Haley for “doing a speech like she won”.

Ms Haley, who once served as a popular two-term governor of South Carolina, congratulated her opponent on his victory in her speech.

She promised not to quit, however, saying the roughly 40% of the vote she received was “not some tiny group”.

“There are huge numbers of voters in our Republican primaries who are saying they want an alternative,” she said, emphasising that her continued campaign was not about her own political ambitions.

“I’m not giving up this fight when a majority of Americans disapprove of both Donald Trump and Joe Biden,” she added.

She has re-committed to staying in the race until at least Super Tuesday – 5 March – when voters in 16 states will cast their ballots on the same day.

“I’m a woman of my word,” the former UN ambassador said. “We’re headed to Michigan tomorrow, and we’re headed to the Super Tuesday states throughout all of next week.”

The Trump campaign dismissed Ms Haley’s continued effort in a statement on Saturday, stating that her “delusion is clouding her judgement, and she is no longer living in reality”.

It has predicted the former president will accumulate enough delegates to formally clinch the nomination within the next month.

Ms Haley does not have a clear path forward – her opponent has a large lead in the delegate count and is polling far ahead in all future contests.

And yet the Haley campaign is still standing, in large part due to contributions from deep-pocketed donors. That flow of cash has continued despite her facing long odds.

Ms Haley raised $16.5m in January alone, campaign officials said. That was her largest monthly total so far, and much more than Mr Trump’s numbers.

To drive home the point that he believes the primary has now ended, Mr Trump wasted no time in making his victory speech moments after the race was called, not allowing Ms Haley to speak before him as she had done in New Hampshire.

Flanked at his podium on the Columbia state fairgrounds by nearly two dozen allies, including most of the state’s political leaders, he told a raucous crowd: “This was a little sooner than we anticipated.”

Mr Trump certainly has much to boast about with this win. Exit polling conducted by the BBC’s US partner, CBS News, shows that the ex-president bested Ms Haley with both men and women, and among all age groups. He also drew strong support from white evangelicals and voters who identify as very conservative.

Thanking them for their support, Mr Trump, 77, reminded his audience: “We have a lot of work ahead of us.”

  • Who’s in running for Trump’s VP pick?
  • Defeat looms over Haley. So why stay in the race?

Andre Chang, 21, told the BBC that Mr Trump is still the only candidate willing to fight the establishment, particularly the “unelected political regime” of bureaucrats and technocrats that govern Washington DC.

“With the Democrats, it’s like we’re playing Russian roulette with a handgun,” the University of South Carolina senior said.

“Well Trump is a revolver. And I want to spin the barrel again.”

Mr Trump believes in “supporting the nation of Israel”, Noel Caldwell, 85, said.

“And not only that, Trump did such a good job – we built up our military and he kept the border closed down and he kept inflation down. Now those things are no longer being taken care of by the administration,” the Lake Murray resident added.

Ms Haley failed to garner traction despite her homefield advantage because voters did not like “the way she has been criticising Trump”, according to Micah Rea, the national committeeman for the South Carolina Young Republicans.

He argued the writing is on the wall for her campaign and she should drop out for the good of the party.

Haley supporters, however, described their votes as taking action against “demagoguery” and the danger they believe Mr Trump poses to democracy.

“America always likes a great underdog, and I think she’s got that,” said Sian Owens.

“Donald Trump is mired down. How much focus can he give to our country with all these legal problems?”

The former president faces the first of four criminal trials next month.

He is also now on the hook for more than half a billion dollars, the combined total of two recent civil trial rulings against him in New York – one for sexual assault and defamation, and another for business fraud.

As Mr Biden racks up a sizeable cash advantage over him in what will likely be the most expensive presidential race in US history, Mr Trump is increasingly relying on donations to cover his soaring legal costs.

It appears the Republican Party could come to his aid. He has consolidated his hold over it by endorsing key allies to lead its national committee.

His daughter-in-law Lara Trump, his pick to take over as co-chair of the Republican Party, has pledged to “spend every penny” of party funds on his legal defence.

EFL Cup final: Chelsea 0-1 Liverpool – Van Dijk heads opener

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Explore Sydney’s most outstanding natural delights

From the iconic Bondi to Coogee walk to coastal camping on the Royal Coast Track, these hikes will take you to secluded beaches, rainforest oases and bushland swimming holes.
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Australia’s iconic city, Sydney, lures visitors with promises of a harbour that pours out to the jewelled Pacific Ocean, lined with beaches and communities buzzing with culture and diversity. Woven throughout the city and its surrounds is a web of trails that leads both the ambler and experienced adventurer to some of Sydney’s most outstanding natural delights.

Getting started is easy with the free NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service app; the digital maps will keep you on track. Throw the essentials of water, snacks, lunch, hat, sunscreen and first-aid kit into your backpack and let your comfy walking shoes lead you on an adventure. Whether on a bustling coastal path or quiet mountain track where you can hear nature whisper, Sydney’s best hiking trails can take you there.

With 50 national park reserves in the Sydney region and hundreds of trails to choose from, these six walks pass secluded beaches, oases of verdant rainforest, thundering waterfalls and bushland swimming holes – and all are made even easier with nearby public transport links to trailheads.

The Bondi to Coogee walk is a quintessential experience for both locals and visitors (Credit: Ampueroleonardo/Getty Images)

1. Best for beach culture: Bondi to Coogee

There’s a reason that the 6km (2.5-3 hour) Bondi to Coogee walk has become a rite-of-passage among residents of and visitors to Sydney. By kickstarting your walk with a coffee from one of Bondi‘s famous cafes and then rewarding yourself with a meal or drink at Coogee, you’ll be opening your heart to the quintessential eastern suburbs experience – one that demands exercising and exceptional coffee to see and be seen.

Locals can be found jogging, walking and saluting the sun along the concrete pathway that winds around the golden sandstone headlands. Thank me later if you choose to wear your swimwear (that’s “cossie” to Aussies) under your clothes for a baptism into Sydney’s beach-swimming culture. Choose between the natural Pacific waves or a quintessentially Australian ocean pool, washed clean with every tide. You’ll pass five beaches and pools on your journey, so why not try them all?

To add a creative edge to your walk, visit during the annual Sculpture by the Sea exhibition (late Oct-early Nov) when 2km of the route is transformed into an immense outdoor art gallery. Whale-watching season runs from May to November, with humpbacks at the peak of their annual migration in June-July.

Website: https://www.bonditocoogeewalk.com/

The 10km Manly Scenic Walkway has epic views back onto the city (Credit: John Spencer/DPE)

2. Best for harbourside bushland: Manly Scenic Walkway

Starting from the north side of the Spit Bridge in the well-to-do northern suburb of Mosman, this grade three walking track is one that, depending on the time of day, still feels a bit of a local secret. The 10km Manly Scenic Walkway (also known as The Spit to Manly Walk) meanders in and out of quiet coves, picnic-friendly parks, lonely beaches and bush-covered headlands.

Views over Middle Harbour and some of Sydney’s priciest real estate dominate the first third of the walk, before the mood changes as you dive under the canopy of bushland in the Sydney Harbour National Park near Castle Rock Beach. Slow down as you climb Dobroyd Head and connect to some of Sydney’s Indigenous heritage at the Grotto Point Aboriginal engraving site where you’ll see petroglyphic images of humans and animals etched into the sandstone.

On weekends you may find an ice-cream truck as you pass Tania Park; enjoy a soft-serve cone while gazing over the Crater Cove huts below, where a handful of people came to live rent-free, building shacks from driftwood and stone from the 1920s-60s. Pull yourself away from the scene and make the final push onto well-earned refreshments at beloved beach-side suburb, Manly. Here, you’ll appreciate the 1920s ferry advertising slogan, “Manly: seven miles from Sydney and 1,000 miles from care.”

Website: https://www.nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/things-to-do/walking-tracks/manly-scenic-walkway

Jerusalem Bay is a great place to stop for a swim on the Cowan to Brooklyn track (Credit: Caro Ryan)

3. Best for fit adventurers: Jerusalem Bay Track

The Jerusalem Bay Track (also known as “Cowan to Brooklyn”) is a sweet 11km snippet of the epic Great North Walk that stretches 250km from Sydney to the port city of Newcastle. Like much of the full two-week adventure, this perfectly formed half-day section begins and ends at public transport, linking Cowan and Hawkesbury River railway stations. It also delivers a teaser of the full expedition along undulating and forested tracks.

Starting at Cowan, about an hour by train from Sydney’s Central Station, your knees will immediately get a workout as you wind your way downhill alongside the sing-song babble of Jerusalem Creek. Enjoy a break at Jerusalem Bay and snap a shot of the iconic palm tree planted by the Rhodes family who built a home and boatshed here in the late 1800s: this stand-alone introduced species is in stark contrast to the surrounding native eucalypts.

Jerusalem Bay makes for a great swimming spot – and you’ll appreciate cooling off before you begin the ascent up to the Brooklyn Dam campsite – but plan your day with the 1.5m tide of this branch of the Hawkesbury River in mind. A popular swimming spot for the 700 locals who call the oyster-farming community of Brooklyn home, this picturesque reservoir was originally built in 1885 to support steam trains, powering them up the hill to Cowan.

From here, it’s a gentle downhill into Brooklyn, where you can celebrate with a cooling ale and a dozen of Sydney’s freshest rock oysters at the Anglers Rest.

Website: https://www.nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/things-to-do/walking-tracks/great-north-walk-in-kuringgai-chase-national-park

The Overcliff/Undercliff track takes hikers into the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area (Credit: Caro Ryan)

4. Best for mountain lovers: Overcliff/Undercliff

The most visited national park in New South Wales, the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area is a hiker’s and nature-lover’s paradise. The challenge of its diverse walking trail system is choosing the track that’s right for you. Whispered about by locals and visitors alike, the Overcliff/Undercliff track encompasses all I love about this region: immense, panoramic views, a variety of habitats, quiet spots to be drawn into nature’s embrace and a great cafe.

Just two hours west by train from Sydney’s Central Station, you’ll find yourself at the tidy village of Wentworth Falls. Here, you can follow in Charles Darwin’s 1836 footsteps and understand his struggle to describe the “quite novel” scene before him of the “immense gulf” and “absolutely vertical sandstone cliffs” Perched above Wentworth Falls’ 187m drop at Fletchers Lookout, a clear day brings the Southern Highlands region into focus, more than 80km to the south across a vast expanse of wilderness.

This recently upgraded 3.5km track from Wentworth Falls Picnic Area to the Conservation Hut Cafe  (complete the loop by returning via the short and easy Short Cut Track) will take 1-2 hours and leave you feeling like you’ve discovered a hidden gem. Cut into the side of a 200m high cliff face, this exhilarating walk is jam-packed with expansive vistas across the Jamison and Kedumba valleys and you’ll pass through a variety of Blue Mountains habitats, including rainforest, heathland, eucalyptus forest and swamp; home to myriad fauna and birdlife.

Website: https://www.nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/things-to-do/walking-tracks/overcliffundercliff-track

Royal National Park is home to more than 650 Aboriginal archaeological sites (Credit: Natasha Webb/DPE)

5. Best for Aboriginal heritage: Jibbon Loop Track and Aboriginal Carvings

The Aboriginal lands of the Dharawal People extend around 120km from southern Sydney to Jervis Bay on the NSW South Coast. Like many First Nations communities, they were brutally cleared from their land in the early 1800s under Governor Macquarie, but the landscape of the Royal National Park still bears witness to 8,000-9,000 years of Dharawal living history in more than 650 known Aboriginal archaeological sites – including 218 rock engravings that depict food sources like eels or animals such as whales, a major totem of the Dharawal.

A 5km return walk from the sleepy seaside village of Bundeena (get here via a 40-minute ferry trip south from Cronulla) will lead you to Jibbon (Djeeban in Dharawal), meaning “sandbars at low tide”. Jibbon Head is the most extensive engraving site in the entire park and includes images of whales, kangaroos and Ancestral Beings.

An incredibly significant and spiritual site for Dharawal, this open-air museum is where their foundational stories, the Dreaming, come from. Walk up from Jibbon Beach and visualise this place 250 years ago: women with their morning catch, men returning from the hunt and life before everything changed with the arrival of British colonists in 1788. To protect the site from erosion or damage, National Parks worked closely with the Dharawal to create a viewing platform and walkway. Pause here and ponder, paying your respects to their Elders.

Website: https://www.sydneycoastwalks.com.au/jibbon-aboriginal-carvings/

The heath-framed walking trails of the Royal Coast Track extend for 30km along the coast (Credit: Peter Sherratt/DPE)

6. Best for coastal camping: Royal Coast Track

Sydney’s Royal National Park was dedicated in 1879, becoming the second national park in the world after Yellowstone in the US. Only 25km from the city, this 16,000-hectare expanse is the first park that many visitors see as they land at Sydney’s Mascot Airport.

Stretching 30km south along the coast, The Royal (or “Nasho” to locals) is popular with Sydneysiders looking for a daytrip to wild beaches, well-maintained picnic areas and coastal heath-framed walking trails.

Its best-known hike is the classic Royal Coast Track, a challenging two-day stretch stopping at a walk-in-only campground at North Era beach. Fall asleep to the lullaby of the waves, wake to the sound of kangaroos munching on grass and stride out along beaches with no one else around (especially mid-week).

If you’re ready to step up and try a two-day hike with camping, carrying everything you need, this public transport-friendly track is a great choice. Create your own walking holiday by catching the quaint local ferry from Cronulla across Port Hacking to Bundeena. At the end of the hike in Otford, hop the train back to Cronulla.

Website: https://www.nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/things-to-do/walking-tracks/the-coast-track

BBC Travel’s The SpeciaList is a series of guides to popular and emerging destinations around the world, as seen through the eyes of local experts and tastemakers.

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