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Putin refuses to waver on east Ukraine; Finland's leaders endorse NATO bid

Laura King and David Pierson, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

More than 8 million people are now displaced within Ukraine, with nearly half fleeing homes in the country’s east, according to the International Organization for Migration. Meanwhile, more than 6 million have fled Ukraine since Russian invaded 11 weeks ago, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

Ukraine’s human rights chief alleged that about 3,000 Mariupol residents were being held in prisons controlled by pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine. Lyudmyla Denysova alleged on social media that some of the detainees were being interrogated under coercion and enduring terrible living conditions. The claims could not be independently verified.

Three people were killed and 12 injured in airstrikes overnight in the northern Chernihiv region, according to The Associated Press, citing local media.

The United Nations’ top human rights representative Thursday blamed the Russian military and its proxies for most of the war’s civilian deaths.

“According to our information, while such incidents can be attributed to both parties to the conflict, most of these casualties appear attributable to the Russian armed forces and affiliated armed groups,” High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet told a special session of the Geneva-based U.N. Human Rights Council.

She said the “vast majority” of the casualties were caused by explosive weapons, including heavy artillery and missiles.

 

The council is expected to vote on a resolution repeating its demand “for the immediate cessation of military hostilities against Ukraine.” The U.N. General Assembly suspended Russia from the body last month amid allegations of atrocities by Russian forces in the suburbs of the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, where bodies of civilians bearing signs of torture and summary execution have been uncovered.

Russia’s determination to continue its war against Ukraine has spooked other neighboring countries, including Finland, a country of 5.5 million people, which had up to now refrained from joining NATO so as to not provoke Moscow. Putin has long viewed NATO’s expansion, particularly its addition of former Eastern Bloc nations such as Poland, Lithuania and Romania after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, as an existential threat to Russia.

Attitudes in Finland toward NATO changed after the Russian invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, which sparked the largest conflict in Europe since World War II. Polls show that 76% of the population now supports joining the defense pact, a dramatic swing from late 2017 during the country’s centennial, when only 19% favored membership.

“The Finnish population looked at Ukraine and said, ‘Russia could do this to Finland,’” said Charly Salonius-Pasternak, a security expert at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs. “At the same time, there’s the realization that Russia talks about using nuclear weapons in a way Finland cannot address. Finland has no deterrence for nuclear weapons. The only way to do that is to become a NATO (member).”

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