A local resident walks past a damaged residential building after shelling on the town of Bakhmut in Donetsk region, Ukraine A local resident walks past a damaged residential building after shelling on the town of Bakhmut in Donetsk region, Ukraine  (AFP or licensors)

Germany's president in Kyiv amid strikes and prisoners setback for US

A Russian court on Tuesday rejected an appeal by U.S. basketball star Brittney Griner against her nine-year prison sentence for possession and smuggling of drugs. The announcement raised the prospects of a prison swap between Russia and the United States, which had condemned the ruling as tensions rise over the war in Ukraine. Amid the standoff, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier arrived in Kyiv for his first trip to Ukraine since Russia invaded amid new Russian air strikes.

By Stefan J. Bos

German President Steinmeier arrived in Kyiv amid air raid sirens. They went off following a series of Russian missile and drone strikes on the Ukrainian capital and other areas, including the eastern Donetsk region. In Donetsk, authorities said some 15 Russian strikes killed at least seven civilians and injured several others over the past 24 hours.

The Ukrainian national police said the strikes destroyed 19 residential buildings and one power line.

Further south, a car blast near the office of a Russian television channel in Russia-occupied Melitopol injured at least a handful of people in what authorities called a terror attack.

The tensions underscored the perceived urgency of the German President's first visit since Russia invaded on February 24.

His surprise visit came six months after the Ukrainian government declined the Social Democrat's offer of a visit amid anger over his past role in brokering closer economic ties between Germany and Russia.
"My message to the Ukrainians is we are not only standing by your side," Steinmeier said after stepping out of the train in Kyiv.

"But we will support Ukraine economically, politically, and also militarily. So my message to Germans at home is: let's not forget what this war means for the people here in Ukraine and how much destruction and suffering there is. The people in Ukraine need us," he added.

Reconstruction efforts

While he visited Kyiv, European leaders in Berlin, Germany, convened a conference on Ukraine's reconstruction. President Volodymyr Zelensky told the meeting in a video address that more than a third of the country's energy sector has been destroyed by rockets and Iranian-made drones.

The president of the European Union's executive European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, spoke about the need to assist Ukraine in its reconstruction as the country seeks accession to the EU.

Ukraine says that repairing the damage caused by a war that has cost thousands of lives and destroyed homes, hospitals, schools, and factories will cost $750 billion. The World Bank estimates reconstruction costs at $349 billion.

As talks are underway, Ukraine continues its counter-offensive in battles believed to have killed and injured tens of thousands of Russian troops. Russia also claims Ukraine is planning to use a dirty bomb - a device containing radioactive material and conventional explosives.

Kyiv and several Western allies have denied the accusations and fear Moscow may use a nuclear device amid heavy losses on the battlefields despite massive air strikes. The potential use of such a device comes on top of what the West views as a politically charged trial of U.S. basketball star Britney Griner.

A Russian court on Tuesday dismissed her appeal against a nine-year sentence for possessing and smuggling vape cartridges containing cannabis oil. Griner and her lawyers had asked for acquittal or at least a reduction in her sentence, saying the punishment was disproportionate to the offense and at odds with Russian judicial practice.

Washington has condemned the verdict, but observers have suggested it opens the door for a possible prisoner exchange. Griner, a two-time Olympic gold medallist, was detained on February 17 at a Moscow airport, a week before Russia sent troops into Ukraine.

Her case has come to symbolize the crisis in U.S.-Russian relations.

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25 October 2022, 18:58