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No power, no water: Civilians in Donbas region feel effects of escalating Ukraine-Russia crisis | International

The dogs were extremely restless when Pavel Kolomoizev arrived at the farm on Sunday. The first thing that greeted him at the muddy entrance was a gaping hole where the mortar shot had dented and broken the metal fence. Inside the property, the wall of the building where the farm workers cook, rest and sometimes sleep was chipped and peppered with holes. There was no more glass in the windows. “Fortunately, I was not here that night,” noted Kolomoizev.

Wearing a black hat pulled down to his eyebrows, the 48-year-old farm operator spent all that day picking up bits of projectile, sweeping the broken glass and covering the holes with plastic sheeting. “Just when you think that you’re finally going to have peace, that things are cooling down and that we can move on, everything starts all over again,” he said, pouring a little tea from a thermos into a cup.

Villages like Krasnohorivka, located just a few miles from the frontlines, are feeling the effects of intensifying violence in the Donbas region of southeastern Ukraine, where pro-Russian separatists backed by the Kremlin and the Ukrainian army have been clashing for the last eight years. A fragile ceasefire signed in 2019 (the umpteenth one) has been constantly violated, and there have been attacks ever since the conflict began in 2014, according to an observer mission sent by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). But the situation has become “much worse” since Thursday of last week, said Vasili Grebinik, a 73-year-old retired miner who lives in the area.

Officials in the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, on one side and the secessionist leaders of the Donetsk and Luhansk areas on the other have been blaming each other for the bombings. Two civilians died on Monday in two attacks in Novoluhanks, within Ukrainian-controlled territory. On Sunday, the heads of the self-proclaimed “Popular Republics” of Donetsk and Luhansk, in the Donbas, announced the death of two more civilians. They also accused the government of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky of sabotaging critical infrastructure and of planning an attack to take back the entire region. Kiev denied this and said it’s a carefully planned operation by the Kremlin to start an incursion into the separatist regions, which Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday recognized as independent republics, arguing that their populations must be protected from what his own security aides have described as “a Nazi regime.”

Residents of Krasnohorivka attempted to fix downed power lines on Monday.
Residents of Krasnohorivka attempted to fix downed power lines on Monday. María Sahuquillo

With political statements picking up speed and diplomatic talks moving into high gear in a bid to de-escalate a rapidly ballooning crisis, the bombing of the Donbas region continues unabated. Projectiles have already brought down power lines and damaged pipes in the towns closest to the frontlines. In Krasnohorivka, a farming village, local residents have been without electricity since Sunday. Víktor, the foreman at a kolkhoz (a collective farm), and several neighbors were attempting to fix the cables and the transformer themselves, aided by a tractor with a front loader bucket. “We can’t be without light, without refrigerators; some people don’t even have heating,” said Víktor.

There is nothing left of the wealth once on display in the Donbas, an industrial and mining region that was an important driver of economic growth during Soviet times. The latest war in Europe has already claimed around 14,000 lives from both sides and forced over 1.5 million people to leave their homes. The conflict is also bleeding the economy of eastern Ukraine and of the country as a whole. The landscape has been scarred by projectiles and is dotted with abandoned buildings. There is also a lot of land lying fallow, according to Alexander Vasilievich, who used to work for an agricultural company. “Everything is in such bad shape that it’s hard to see which are the old shot marks and which are the new,” he said, shrugging. A detonation went off in the distance, but Vasilievich did not even flinch.

The farm where Pavel Kolomoizev works, in Krasnohorivka, was hit by a projectile that damaged the building where the workers eat and sleep.
The farm where Pavel Kolomoizev works, in Krasnohorivka, was hit by a projectile that damaged the building where the workers eat and sleep.María Sahuquillo

The city of Marinka, in the Donetsk Oblast (province), was the scene of intense fighting at the beginning of the war and it briefly came under separatist control for a couple of days. On Monday, Luba Vetrova and a group of friends were having a lively conversation on the benches of a city park, soaking in the rays of the winter sun. “What else can we do, there’s no electricity at home,” said Vetrova, 69. All the women sounded furious, blaming the government for the war and the escalation of violence. They said that everything would be better if the Ukrainian soldiers would just go away, and even suspected that Ukraine, not Russia, might have been behind some of the projectiles targeting the city. “Whether accidentally or not, all I know is that my roof has been broken four times. Whoever it was, we’re right in the middle,” said one of the women. Vetrova, who lives off a modest pension, said she misses the days of the Soviet Union when she could afford to go on vacation to the Black Sea or to Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan. “I haven’t been out of here for two decades,” she lamented.

Tamara Mavrova was also feeling a bit nostalgic, but in her case, it was for the city that might have been but whose future was cut short by the war. “Last year the circus came to town and we bought tickets for my granddaughter,” she explained. “But there were several attacks and they were unable to perform.” Mavrova, 70, used to work in a small retail store until it was shut down because of the war. For the last two days, she has been without electricity or running water. Her house is filled with candles, flashlights and large water bottles. “At the start of the war, we moved in with relatives in a different area. But we are elderly and we don’t know where to go,” she said. Despite the years that have gone by, she still can’t get used to the sound of the bombs. “When it comes, I bite my tongue and I sit to wait until it goes away.”

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Bukele places personal secretary as interim president as he runs for reelection in El Salvador | International

President Nayib Bukele will focus in the coming months on a reelection campaign, despite the fact that a consecutive term is expressly prohibited by the Constitution of El Salvador. Last Thursday, El Salvador’s Congress granted the controversial and popular president leave for six months so that he could begin his race for the presidency. The request was approved by 67 of the 84 deputies in Congress.

Bukele’s reelection bid was given the green light in September 2021, when the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court elaborated an interpretation of the text that allows a sitting president to participate in the elections if he is on leave from office at least six months before the vote. Honduran leader Juan Orlando Hernández and Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega used similar moves to remain in power. The Salvadoran Supreme Court — whose members were handpicked by Bukele — made the decision even though at least five articles of the country’s Constitution ban consecutive terms.

Bukele has ignored the calls to respect the Constitution and launched a reelection campaign amid soaring approval ratings. Under the president’s controversial state of exception, gang violence has fallen to widespread approval. This is despite the multiple reports of human rights violations in prisons, arbitrary detentions and short-term forced disappearances.

The six-month leave granted to Bukele was the last requirement the president needed in order to begin campaigning for the February 4 elections. The president has the justice system and the polls on his side, and is also facing an opposition that is weighed down by corruption cases and has little popular support. “The infamous event that took place yesterday [on Thursday, November 30] constitute a triple constitutional fraud. The perpetrators have simulated formal compliance with constitutional norms while violating others that prohibit re-election, leaving presidential office and those that regulate the appointment and function of presidential appointees,” said the Salvadoran civil movement SUMAR in a statement.

“There is no president in El Salvador”

Bukele will be joined on the campaign trail by his vice president Félix Ulloa, who is also seeking re-election. According to the Constitution, Bukele had to present a shortlist of candidates to replace him during his six-month leave, but he only proposed one person: Claudia Juana Rodríguez de Guevara, his private secretary who overseees his financial activities.

“She is not a politician, she is the custodian of the president’s businesses,” Ricardo Vaquerano, one of the most prominent investigative journalists in El Salvador, told EL PAÍS. “Claudia Juana worked first in the accounting area, and then in the financial area, of Obermet, the Bukele family’s advertising company. Once Nayib launched her political career, she was in charge of finances for the mayor’s office of Nuevo Cuscatlán, where Nayib was first mayor in 2015. She then assumed the mayor’s office of San Salvador, the capital, where she became treasurer… and when Nayib became president, she became the financial director of the presidency.”

Vaquerano points out that Rodríguez Guevara was finance secretary of Bukele’s Nuevas Ideas (New Ideas) party. “It is the president’s party and this is a party that has not been transparent about absolutely anything, despite the fact that the law mandates that the origin of financing be transparent,” the journalist added. The interim president of El Salvador holds multiple positions, including the presidency of the Board of Directors of the National Directorate of Municipal Works (DOM).

Félix Ulloa, vice president of El Salvador under Bukele, in July 2022
Félix Ulloa, vice president of El Salvador under Bukele, in July 2022Álvaro García

“The DOM is an institution that was created two years ago to direct to Rodríguez de Guevara all the money that was previously delivered to the municipalities from the general budget of the nation. This year, the DOM should have at least around $680 million to do its work, but it is also closed to public scrutiny,” said Vaquero, who argued that Bukele appointed Rodríguez de Guevara to that body as she is in charge of the president’s finances. The journalist points out that in 2020 the Attorney General’s Office received 12 reports from the Anti-Corruption Commission on the irregular use of more than $150 million of funds under the umbrella of the funds to address the Covid-19 pandemic.

Despite the criticism, the deputies approved the interim term of Rodríguez de Guevara, who is the first woman to occupy the presidency of El Salvador. “Claudia Juana Rodríguez de Guevara is elected as designated by the President of the Republic, for the current presidential period, which ends on May 31, 2024,” stated the approved decree.

Vaquerano argues that the appointment of Bukele’s secretary does not comply with the Constitution. “Every person who is going to act as president must go through Congress, and this lady did not even run for Congress. So there is no president in El Salvador at this moment,” he said.

Bukele maintains presidential immunity

Vaquerano also argues that Bukele has an “unfair” advantage in the election, as he will retain presidential immunity during the six-month leave. The journalist explains that Bukele controls the justice system and the prosecutor’s office, so it is unlikely that he will be punished if he slanders other presidential hopefuls.

“The state media will reproduce everything he says during the campaign. This is also a huge advantage for Nayib,” added Vaquero. “Bukele made it clear on a national network about three days ago that, although it is true that he will leave the presidency, he will ‘be watching them.’ Bukele is not leaving, he is pretending to leave, but he will continue to maintain control and remain close with key officials.”

Vaquerano adds that the State Intelligence Agency and police intelligence warned that the Bukele government has used the Israeli software Pegasus to spy on opponents, its own deputies, academics and critical journalists in El Salvador. “He can find out what his opponents are up to, what they are doing, what the political parties that are going to compete in 2024 are planning,” said the journalist. “If we add to that the fact that he has iron control over the prosecutor’s office, police and judicial body, he has everything he needs to intimidate them.”

Bukele during the 78th session of the United Nations General Assembly, in New York, USA, in September 2023.
Bukele during the 78th session of the United Nations General Assembly, in New York, USA, in September 2023.JUSTIN LANE (EFE)

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Kyiv investigates allegations Russian forces shot surrendering Ukrainian soldiers | International

Ukrainian officials on Sunday launched an investigation into allegations that Russian forces killed surrendering Ukrainian soldiers — a war crime if confirmed — after grainy footage on social media appeared to show two uniformed men being shot at close range after emerging from a dugout.

The video shows the servicemen, one of them with his hands up, walking out at gunpoint and lying down on the ground before a group of Russian troops appears to open fire. It was not immediately possible to verify the video’s authenticity or the circumstances in which it was filmed, and it was unclear when the incident took place.

The Ukrainian General Prosecutor’s office on Sunday launched a criminal investigation, hours after the Ukrainian military’s press office said in an online statement that the footage is genuine.

“The video shows a group in Russian uniforms shooting, at point-blank range, two unarmed servicemen in the uniform of the Armed Forces of Ukraine who were surrendering,” the prosecutor’s office said in a Telegram update on Sunday.

The Russian defense ministry did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment. As of Sunday evening, there were no public statements from the Russian government or military on the video.

Kyiv, its Western allies and international human rights organizations have repeatedly accused Moscow of breaching international humanitarian law since it launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. The Kremlin denies these allegations.

The video first appeared Saturday on DeepState, a popular Ukrainian Telegram channel covering the war. The post claimed the footage came from the front lines near Avdiivka, a Ukrainian holdout in the country’s part-occupied east, where there has been fierce fighting in recent weeks.

The General Prosecutor’s Office on Sunday said that the alleged killing took place in the Pokrovsk district, which includes Avdiivka and surrounding areas.

“It’s clear from the video that the Ukrainian servicemen are taking the necessary steps that show they are surrendering,” Ukraine’s human rights chief, Dmytro Lubinets, said hours after the footage emerged on Saturday.

In a statement posted to Telegram, Lubinets described the incident as “yet another glaring example of Russia’s violations of international humanitarian law.”

Oleksandr Shtupun, a spokesperson for the Ukrainian military grouping that is fighting near Avdiivka, was cited by Ukrainian media as saying the video was “glaring confirmation” of Moscow’s disrespect for the laws of war.

In March, footage of a man exclaiming “Glory to Ukraine” before being gunned down in a wooded area sparked national outcry in Ukraine, as senior officials alleged that he was an unarmed prisoner of war killed by Russian soldiers.

Last summer, Kyiv and Moscow also traded blame for a shelling attack on a prison in occupied eastern Ukraine that killed dozens of Ukrainian POWs. Both sides claimed the assault on the facility in Olenivka was aimed at covering up atrocities, with Ukrainian officials charging captive soldiers had been tortured and executed there.

The U.N.’s human rights chief in July rejected Moscow’s claim that a rocket strike had caused the blast.

Also on Sunday, Ukraine’s energy ministry reported that close to 1,000 towns and villages suffered power outages that day, with hundreds of settlements in the west battered by wintry weather and others affected by ongoing fighting.

The Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank, late on Saturday assessed that military operations have slowed down all along the frontline in Ukraine due to poor weather, with mud bogging down tracked vehicles and making it hard for lighter equipment and infantry to advance.

Even so, Shtupun, of Ukraine’s Tavria military command that oversees the stretch of frontline near Avdiivka, said in a separate statement Sunday that Russian infantry attacks had intensified in the area over the past day. In a Telegram post, he insisted Ukrainian troops were “holding firm” in Avdiivka and another nearby town.

In the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson, at least two people died and seven more were wounded after Russian forces on Sunday shelled a high-rise apartment block and other civilian buildings, the head of the city’s military administration said in a series of Telegram posts.

One of the updates by Roman Mrochko featured a blurred photo of what he said was the body of a deceased civilian, apparently lying on a dirt road or in a yard outside the high-rise. The photo’s authenticity could not be independently verified.

Regional Gov. Oleksandr Prokudin separately reported on Sunday that Russian shelling that day damaged two of Kherson’s hospitals. He did not immediately reference any casualties.

Earlier in the day, a 78-year-old civilian died in a village northeast of Kherson after Russian shells slammed into his garage, according to a Telegram update by the regional Ukrainian military administration.

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Open Source Software (OSS) Supply Chain, Security Risks And Countermeasures

OSS Security Risks And Countermeasures

The software development landscape increasingly hinges on open source components, significantly aiding continuous integration, DevOps practices, and daily updates. Last year, Synopsys discovered that 97% of codebases in 2022 incorporated open source, with specific sectors like computer hardware, cybersecurity, energy, and the Internet of Things (IoT) reaching 100% OSS integration.

While leveraging open source enhances efficiency, cost-effectiveness, and developer productivity, it inadvertently paves a path for threat actors seeking to exploit the software supply chain. Enterprises often lack visibility into their software contents due to complex involvement from multiple sources, raising concerns highlighted in VMware’s report last year. Issues include reliance on communities to patch vulnerabilities and associated security risks.

Raza Qadri, founder of Vibertron Technologies, emphasizes OSS’s pivotal role in critical infrastructure but underscores the shock experienced by developers and executives regarding their applications’ OSS contribution. Notably, Qadri cites that 95% of vulnerabilities surface in “transitive main dependencies,” indirectly added open source packages.

Qadri also acknowledges developers’ long-standing use of open source. However, recent years have witnessed heightened awareness, not just among developers but also among attackers. Malware attacks targeting the software supply chain have surged, as demonstrated in significant breaches like SolarWinds, Kaseya, and the Log4j exploit.

Log4j’s widespread use exemplifies the consolidation of risk linked to extensively employed components. This popular Java-based logging tool’s vulnerabilities showcase the systemic dependency on widely used software components, posing significant threats if exploited by attackers.

Moreover, injection of malware into repositories like GitHub, PyPI, and NPM has emerged as a growing threat. Cybercriminals generate malicious versions of popular code to deceive developers, exploiting vulnerabilities when components are downloaded, often without the developers’ knowledge.

Despite OSS’s security risks, its transparency and visibility compared to commercial software offer certain advantages. Qadri points out the swift response to Log4j vulnerabilities as an example, highlighting OSS’s collaborative nature.

Efforts to fortify software supply chain security are underway, buoyed by multi-vendor frameworks, vulnerability tracking tools, and cybersecurity products. However, additional steps, such as enforcing recalls for defective OSS components and implementing component-level firewalls akin to packet-level firewalls, are necessary to fortify defenses and mitigate malicious attacks.

Qadri underscores the need for a holistic approach involving software bills of materials (SBOMs) coupled with firewall-like capabilities to ensure a comprehensive understanding of software contents and preemptive measures against malicious threats.

As the software supply chain faces ongoing vulnerabilities and attacks, concerted efforts are imperative to bolster security measures, safeguard against threats, and fortify the foundational aspects of open source components.

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