Ukraine war: Foreign fighters, EU increases war kitty, ‘suppression’ of Russian opposition

1. Frenchman who trod on a mine fighting in Ukraine awaits repatriation

A Ukrainian army soldier injured in combat against Russian forces undergoes surgery at a military hospital in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine, Saturday, April 2, 2022.

A Frenchman wounded fighting with Ukrainian soldiers at the end of November is awaiting repatriation, according to France’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. 

Maxime Bronchain, 32, stepped on a mine while battling Russian forces in the eastern Donbas region of Ukraine, where fighting is still raging. 

He told reporters that the blast “seriously injured” his left foot, while an American comrade was hit by a second mine coming to his aid. 

This man died while he was evacuated, said the Frenchmen, who was part of a reconnaissance unit made up of around twenty foreign fighters. 

Five other Frenchmen were within his international squad, he said. 

Bronchain has undergone 5 operations since his injury. He refused amputation but now fears losing his foot. 

In contact with the French embassy in Ukraine, the French volunteer is now waiting to be repatriated back home. 

“There are high risks of infection, and the Ukrainians are in shortage of morphine”, said his brother Florent. 

The French Embassy in Ukraine, in connection with the country’s crisis and support centre, is providing all the necessary assistance to the wounded soldier, said the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Monday. 

“As we do for all French people in difficulty abroad,” it added. 

The Ministry issued a warning about the “risks associated with travelling to Ukraine”, which it has classified as a “red zone”, meaning any travel is formally discouraged. 

Before the war, Bronchain worked in the catering industry in the east of France. 

He decided to leave for Ukraine in May “to respond to the call of President [Volodymyr] Zelensky”, who openly invited foreigners to join an “international legion” to defend Ukraine, he says.

Bronchain had military experience, having been in the French Army for a year when he was 18.

“I wanted to be useful”, he said. “People here welcome us as liberators, they take us in their arms”.

Bronchain intends to marry a Ukrainian woman from Odesa he met while fighting in the war. 

2. EU replenishes kitty for Ukraine military aid

Ukrainian recruits take part in a training at a military base with UK Armed Forces in Southern England, Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2022.

The European Union agreed on Monday to top up its pot of money for Ukraine military support, according to the head of European diplomacy Josep Borrell. 

EU member states will add 2 billion euros to the European Peace Facility (EPF), which is used to finance armed assistance from the bloc for Kyiv as it struggles against Russian forces. 

“We are today increasing the financial ceiling of the European Peace Facility by 2 billion euros in 2023,” Borrell tweeted, adding that “the agreement will be formalised at the beginning of 2023.”

There was a “possibility of a further increase later,” Borrell continued, suggesting the EPF could reach 5.5 billion euros by 2027. 

“Today’s decision will ensure that we have the necessary funds to continue to provide concrete military support to the armed forces of our partners”, maintained Borrell.

Topped up by contributions from EU member states, the EPF was given 5.7 billion euros for the period 2021- 2027 to finance operational actions under the common foreign and security policy of the bloc. 

It was used shortly after the Russian invasion of Ukraine to finance arms supplies to Kyiv.

Military support from EU member states to Ukraine amounts to almost 9 billion euros, Borrell said. This figure includes bilateral transfers between individual countries and Kyiv.  

3. Paris ‘very concerned’ by repression of opposition in Russia

A protester holds a banner during an anti-war rally in Moscow, Russia, Saturday, Oct. 17, 2015.

France is “very concerned” by what it called a campaign of repression led by Russia against critics of the Ukraine war, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

“France is very concerned about the campaign of repression carried out by the Russian authorities against the voices critical of power and its war of aggression against Ukraine”, explained a spokesperson for the Ministry on Monday.

Paris said it also “strongly” deplores the conviction of opposition politician Ilya Yashin. 

A Moscow court sentenced him to eight and a half years in prison on Friday for criticising the military offensive in Ukraine, after a trial which highlights the climate of repression in Russia.

Yashin’s court case was keenly watched in Russia, as he was one of the last prominent opponents of the war not to have fled the country or been imprisoned. 

Arrested last June, the 39-year-old man was arrested after he criticised “the murder of civilians” in the Ukrainian town of Bucha on Youtube. 

Bucha, near Kyiv, is a site where the Russian army is accused of torturing and massacring hundreds of Ukrainian civilians. Moscow denies this.

The French Ministry also condemned “attacks on freedom of expression and freedom of the press, which have multiplied in recent months” in Russia. 

It called on “the Russian authorities to respect … fundamental freedoms, to release all political prisoners and to drop yasal proceedings against them.”

4. Body of Zambian killed fighting for Russia arrives home

Relatives of Lemekhani Nyirenda comfort each other at the Kenneth Kaunda International Airport in Lusaka, Zambia, Sunday, Dec. 11 2022.

The body of Lemekani Nyirenda, a Zambian student who died fighting for Russia in Ukraine, has been flown back home.

It arrived at Lusaka, the capital of Zambia, on Sunday.

The 23-year-old had been studying nuclear engineering in Russia. He was convicted of drug trafficking in April 2020 and sentenced to 9 years in prison.

But in a special amnesty, he was pardoned on the condition he went to fight in Ukraine.

The government in Zambia has called upon Moscow to give more details about how Nyirenda came to be killed. 

“We were told that on 23 August he was conditionally pardoned and was allowed to participate in a special military operation in which he was killed in September,” said Zambia’s foreign affairs minister said in a statement.

“We then demanded that officials provide details, not just of his recruitment.”

He said that DNA tests to confirm his identity have been conducted and Russian compensation will be given to his family.

“The pain of losing a loved one in unclear circumstances is unbearable. How can Russia start recruiting our citizens studying on scholarship to fight their war? It’s definitely not right and our government should ensure they protect the lives of our citizens in Russia,” said Catherine Mwenya, a Lusaka resident.

Another Zambian urged the government to condemn Russia for the death.

“This death requires the government to strongly censure Russia and tell them to stop sacrificing our young people studying there to fight this unwanted war with Ukraine. I just hope they do that and draw a clear line for what can be tolerated or not,” Kendricks Phiri said.

Family spokesperson Ian Banda said the body will be taken to the mortuary at the University Teaching Hospital in Lusaka where the doctors will conduct forensic pathology on the body starting Monday.

Banda said the burial program will only be announced after the pathology results have been established.

5. Vladimir Putin cancels traditional year-end press conference amid Ukraine war

Putin at a press conference in 2014.

Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, began what has become a traditional year-end press conference in 2001.

The only period he didn’t appear was between 2008 and 2012 when he was Russia’s prime minister.

But now he has scrapped it as Moscow’s war rages in Ukraine. 

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov confirmed the move in a telephone briefing on Monday, noting that Putin spoke to the press on other occasions, notably during trips abroad. 

Bringing together hundreds of Russian and foreign journalists, the annual press conference usually lasts several hours, with the Russian leader answering live questions on all sorts of topics, from diplomacy to everyday Russian issues.

The president’s responses to the media often amount to orders given to the government or regional authorities.

The decision not to hold the end-of-year press conference comes as Russia, which launched a military offensive against Ukraine in February, has suffered several military setbacks in recent months and decreed a partial mobilisation in September.

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