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US closes Kyiv embassy, destroys equipment amid warnings of Russian invasion

The US is closing its embassy in the Ukrainian capital Kyiv and relocating operations to the western city of Lviv due to the “dramatic acceleration in the buildup of Russian forces,” the State Department said on Monday.

“The embassy will remain engaged with the Ukrainian government, coordinating diplomatic engagement in Ukraine. We are also continuing our intensive diplomatic efforts to deescalate the crisis. These prudent precautions in no way undermine our support for or our commitment to Ukraine,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement.

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He added that diplomatic efforts to de-escalate tensions with Russia were ongoing and called for a diplomatic solution.

Meanwhile, the top US diplomat reiterated Washington’s warning to American citizens to immediately leave Ukraine.

The State Department ordered the destruction of networking equipment and computer workstations and the dismantling of the Kyiv embassy telephone system, the Wall Street Journal reported citing US officials familiar with the matter.

The US and Western allies remain on edge as top officials have warned that Russia was ain a position to invade Ukraine at any moment.

Washington reported that Russia had amassed over 100,000 troops at the Ukrainian border, surrounding the country from three sides.

The West has threatened Moscow with wide-ranging sanctions if it attacked Kyiv.

Asked about the Embassy move, State Department Spokesman Ned Price told reporters that the decision was made based on what Washington was “seeing on the ground with our own eyes.”

Price said that Ukraine’s National Guard Police would guard the US Embassy and that the US “fully intend[ed]” to return when it became “safe to do so.”

Earlier in the day, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told Vladimir Putin that Moscow should hold more talks with Washington and its allies in a sign that de-escalation was possible.

But Price said the US had seen “no tangible sign of de-escalation” along the border between Russia and Ukraine. He added: “We believe that diplomacy continues to be viable.”

The Pentagon also said that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was heading to Europe amid the Russian aggression. Austin will visit Belgium, Poland and Lithuania, where he will meet with US troops deployed to the region as well as visit NATO’s headquarters.

Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said they still did not believe that Russia’s president had made a final decision on whether to invade.

“Military action could happen any day,” Kirby said. “It is entirely possible that he [Putin] could move with little to no warning.”

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US: Bodies of two of three missing kids found in Minnesota lake

The bodies of two young children have been recovered from a Minnesota lake, and searchers are still looking for a third they fear may have been intentionally drowned.

Meanwhile, the father of the children died at a different location hours earlier, and their mother is missing. Names have not been released.

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The chain of events began Friday morning when the father was found dead at a mobile home park in the town of Maplewood, near Minneapolis. Police determined that the woman had left with the children, and a search began.

Maplewood Police Lt. Joe Steiner said the woman’s car was found near Vadnais Lake around 4 p.m. Friday. The shoes of the children were found on the shore.

A search of the lake found one child’s body Friday evening. A second body was found overnight. Searchers from several organizations were busy Saturday looking for the third, as well as the mother.

Authorities believe all three children were under the age of 5.

“There’s nothing more tragic than the loss of young children,” Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher said at a news conference on Friday. He called the deaths a “likely triple homicide.”

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Foreign firefighters arrive in Greece for summer wildfire season

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Foreign firefighters arrive in Greece for summer wildfire season

Several dozen Romanian and Bulgarian firefighters took up their posts in Greece on Saturday, the first members of a European force being deployed to the country to provide backup in case of major wildfires during the summer.

More than 200 firefighters and equipment from Bulgaria, France, Germany, Romania, Norway and Finland will be on standby during the hottest months of July and August in Greece, where a spate of wildfires caused devastation last summer.

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A group of 28 Romanian firefighters with eight vehicles, and 16 firefighters from Bulgaria with four vehicles, were the first to arrive for the two-month mission, financed and coordinated under the European Union’s civil protection mechanism.

“We thank you very much for coming to help us during a difficult summer for our country, and for proving that European solidarity is not just theoretical, it’s real,” Greek Civil Protection Minister Christos Stylianides said on Saturday as he welcomed the members of the Romanian mission in Athens.

“When things get tough, you will be side by side with our Greek firefighters so we can save lives and property.”

The Bulgarian firefighters have been stationed in Larissa, in central Greece.

Last summer’s wildfires ravaged about 300,000 acres (121,000 hectares) of forest and bushland in different parts of Greece as the country experienced its worst heatwave in 30 years.

Following sharp criticism of its response to the fires, the Greek government set up a new civil protection ministry and promised to boost firefighting capacities.

In Greece’s worst wildfire disaster, 102 people were killed when a blaze tore through the seaside town of Mati and nearby areas close to Athens during the summer of 2018.

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One killed, six injured in shootout between migrant groups in Serbia

One migrant was killed and at least six others, including a teenage girl, were injured Saturday in a shootout between migrant groups in Serbia near the Hungarian border, the state-run RTS television reported.

The 16-year-old girl sustained life threatening injuries in the incident that occurred in a forest in the outskirts of Subotica, some 160 kilometers (100 miles) north of Belgrade, where the injured were hospitalized, RTS reported.

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Police, who made no immediate comment, blocked access to the forest where the incident took place, only around a kilometer from the Hungarian border.

Interior Minister Aleksandar Vulin rushed to the scene.

The injured, aged between 20 and 30, have no documents, Subotica mayor Stevan Bakic told local media.

It is not known what triggered the incident, he added.

Local media reported that the shootout occurred between Afghan and Pakistani migrants most likely over human trafficking from the area to European Union member Hungary.

Serbia lies on the so-called Balkans route used by migrants heading towards Western Europe as they flee war and poverty in the Middle East, Asia and Africa.

Although the route is nowhere as busy as it was during Europe’s migrant crisis in 2015, tens of thousands of illegal migrants still cross the region annually.

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