As Russian missiles struck a key Ukrainian city, Russian President Vladimir Putin expanded a fast-track procedure for obtaining Russian citizenship to all Ukrainians on Monday, another effort to strengthen Moscow’s influence over war-torn Ukraine.
Until recently, the only residents eligible to apply for the simplified passport procedure were those in Ukraine’s separatist eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions, as well as residents of the southern Zaporizhzhia and the Kherson regions, large parts of which are now under Russian control.
Ukrainian officials haven’t yet reacted to Putin’s announcement that he had signed a passport decree, which also applies to any stateless residents currently in Ukraine.
Between 2019, when the procedure was introduced for residents of Donetsk and Luhansk, and this year, more than 720,000 people living in the rebel-held areas in the two regions — about 18 per cent of the population — have received Russian passports.
In late May, three months after Russia invaded Ukraine, the fast-track procedure was also offered to residents of the Zaporizhzhia and Kherson regions.
The Russian passport move appears to be part of Putin’s political influence strategy, which has also involved introduction of the Russian ruble in occupied territory in Ukraine and could eventually result in the annexation of more Ukrainian territory into the Russian Federation. Russia already annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula on the Black Sea in 2014.
The Russian president set the stage for such moves even before Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine, writing an essay last summer claiming that Russians and Ukrainians are one people and attempting to diminish the legitimacy of Ukraine as an independent nation. Reports have surfaced of Russian authorities confiscating Ukrainian passports from some citizens.
U.S. suggests Russia turning to Iran for weapons
The White House on Monday said it believes Russia is turning to Iran to provide it with “hundreds” of unmanned aerial vehicles, including weapons-capable drones, for use in Ukraine.
U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said it was unclear whether Iran had already provided any of the unmanned systems to Russia, but said the U.S. has “information” that indicates Iran is preparing to train Russian forces to use them as soon as this month.
“Our information indicates that the Iranian government is preparing to provide Russia with up to several hundred UAVs, including weapons-capable UAVs on an expedited timeline,” he told reporters Monday.
Sullivan’s revelation comes on the eve of U.S. President Joe Biden’s trip to Israel and Saudi Arabia, where Iran’s nuclear program and activities in the region will be a key subject of discussion.
The U.S. decision to publicly reveal that the two countries’ chief regional rival was helping to rearm Russia comes as both Israel and Saudi Arabia have resisted joining global efforts to punish Russia for its invasion of Ukraine.
6 dead in Kharkiv attack
Russian shelling of Ukraine’s second-largest city on Monday killed at least six people and injured 31, prosecutors and local officials said.
Russian troops launched three missile strikes on Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, in an attack one official described as “absolute terrorism.”
Russia’s Defence Ministry said the attacks struck at the points of deployment for Ukraine’s “nationalist battalions.” Kharkiv regional Gov. Oleh Syniehubov said on Telegram that the shelling came from multiple rocket launchers, and those wounded and hospitalized included children aged four and 16.
“Only civilian structures — a shopping centre and houses of peaceful Kharkiv residents — came under the fire of the Russians. Several shells hit the yards of private houses. Garages and cars were also destroyed. Several fires broke out,” Syniehubov wrote.
Earlier, he said one missile destroyed a school, another hit a residential building, while the third landed near warehouse facilities.
“This is absolute terrorism!” Syniehubov said, noting all three were launched exclusively on civilian subjects.
Kharkiv resident Alexander Peresolin said the attacks came without warning, with a blast so fierce he lost consciousness. Neighbours carried him to the basement, where he regained consciousness.
“I was sitting and talking to my wife,” he said. “I didn’t understand what happened.”
Death toll climbs in apartment building strike
The strikes came two days after a Russian rocket attack struck apartment buildings in eastern Ukraine.
The death toll in that attack on the town of Chasiv Yar rose to 30 on Monday. Nine people have been rescued from the rubble but more are still believed trapped, emergency officials said.
The attack late Saturday destroyed three buildings in a residential quarter used mostly by people who work in factories. Russia’s Defence Ministry insisted Monday that the Chasiv Yar target “was a Ukrainian territorial defence brigade, and that “more than 300 nationalists” were killed.
Russian attacks continued in eastern Ukraine, with Luhansk regional Gov. Serhiy Haidai saying Monday that Russian forces carried out five missile strikes and four rounds of shelling, hitting settlements on the border with the Donetsk region.
The Luhansk and Donetsk regions make up Ukraine’s eastern industrial heartland known as the Donbas, where separatist rebels have fought Ukrainian forces since 2014.
Earlier this month, Russia captured the last major stronghold of Ukrainian resistance in Luhansk, the city of Lysychansk.
Hundreds of children killed in war: UN
The United Nations said it will investigate the killing and wounding of children in Ukraine, as it released its annual Children and Armed Conflict report.
Without laying blame, UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said last week that as of July 3, 4,889 civilians had been killed in Ukraine, including 335 children, stressing that the real figure is likely much higher.
Russia denies targeting civilian areas.
UN chief Antonio Guterres said on Monday the report that found 2,515 children were killed and 5,555 maimed in global conflicts in 2021.
He said next year’s report would include verified violations against children in Ukraine.
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Concerns for health of Ukrainians in Canada
Migrant health experts are warning that the swift influx of Ukrainians fleeing to Canada could put some at risk of falling through cracks in primary care.
A new analysis published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal today suggests that Canada’s special visa program for Ukrainians escaping war may help streamline the immigration process, but could also create gaps in access to medical care.
Lead author Dr. Christina Greenaway says while Ukrainian newcomers receive health-care coverage, they aren’t eligible for standard assistance from refugee settlement agencies because they are classified as “temporary residents.”
The infectious disease physician at Montreal’s Jewish General Hospital says these settlement agencies help migrants connect with medical and psychological services that play an important role in ensuring smooth integration into Canada.
Greenaway says Canada needs to strengthen its systems to provide equitable health coverage to people affected by mass migrations, such as improving access to interpreters that would allow doctors to better communicate with newly arrived patients.
According to the federal government, 55,488 Ukrainians arrived in Canada between Jan. 1 and June 26.