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Mariupol mayor says Russia’s siege has killed more than 10,000 civilians

The mayor of the Ukrainian port city of Mariupol said Monday that more than 10,000 civilians have died in the Russian siege of his city, and that the death toll could surpass 20,000, with corpses that were “carpeted through the streets.”

Speaking by phone Monday to The Associated Press, Mayor Vadym Boychenko also said Russian forces brought mobile cremation equipment to the city to dispose of the bodies, and he accused Russian forces of refusing to allow humanitarian convoys into the city in an attempt to conceal the carnage.

Russian forces have taken many bodies to a huge shopping center where there are storage facilities and refrigerators, Boychenko said.

“Mobile crematoriums have arrived in the form of trucks: You open it, and there is a pipe inside and these bodies are burned,” he said.

The mayor’s comments emerged as Russia claimed that it destroyed several Ukrainian air-defense systems in what appeared to be a renewed push to gain air superiority and take out weapons Kyiv has described as crucial ahead of an expected broad new offensive in the east.

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In one strike, Moscow said it hit four S-300 launchers near the central city of Dnipro that had been provided by a European country it did not name. Slovakia gave Ukraine just such a system last week but denied it had been destroyed. Russia previously reported two strikes on similar systems in other places.

The failure to win full control of Ukraine’s skies has hampered Moscow’s ability to provide air cover for troops on the ground, limiting their advances and likely exposing them to greater losses.

With their offensive in many parts of the country thwarted, Russian forces have relied increasingly on bombarding cities — a strategy that has left many urban areas flattened and killed thousands of people.

Ukrainian authorities accuse Russian forces of committing atrocities, including a massacre in the town of Bucha, outside Kyiv, airstrikes on hospitals and a missile attack that killed at least 57 people last week at a train station.

In Bucha on Monday, the work of exhuming bodies from a mass grave in a churchyard resumed.

Galyna Feoktistova waited for hours in the cold and rain in hopes of identifying her 50-year-old son, who was shot and killed more than a month ago, but eventually she went home for some warmth. “He’s still there,” her surviving son, Andriy, said.

In Mariupol, about 120,000 civilians are in dire need of food, water, warmth and communications, the mayor said.

Only those residents who have passed the Russian “filtration camps” are released from the city, Boychenko said. He said improvised prisons were organized for those who did not pass the “filtering,” while at least 33,000 were taken to Russia or to separatist territory in Ukraine.

Meanwhile, the U.N. children’s agency said that nearly two-thirds of all Ukrainian children have fled their homes in the six weeks since Russia’s invasion began, and the United Nations has verified that 142 children have been killed and 229 injured, though the actual numbers are likely much higher.

Elsewhere, Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer said he met Monday with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow for talks that were “very direct, open and tough.”

In a statement released by his office, Nehammer said his primary message to Putin was “that this war needs to end, because in war both sides can only lose.” Nehammer said he also raised the issue of war crimes committed by the Russian military and said those responsible “will be held to account.”

Austria is a member of the European Union and has backed the 27-nation bloc’s sanctions against Russia, though it so far has opposed cutting off deliveries of Russian gas. The country is militarily neutral and is not a member of NATO.

In other developments, the head of the separatist rebel government in Donetsk said Ukrainian forces have lost control of the port area of Mariupol.

“Regarding the port of Mariupol, it is now under our control,” Denis Pushilin, president of the Donetsk People’s Republic, told Russian state television, according to Russian news agencies. The claim could not immediately be confirmed.

The mayor said fighting continues.

“It is difficult, but our heroic military holds on,” Boychenko said. “There are fights in the port. Yesterday, our heroic warriors knocked out several positions of equipment and, accordingly, rebuffed the infantry.

Russia has appointed a seasoned general to lead its renewed push in the eastern Donbas region, where Moscow-backed separatists have been battling Ukrainian forces since 2014 and have declared independent states. Both sides are digging in for what could be a devastating war of attrition.

Russian forces will likely try to encircle the Donbas region from the north and the south as well as the east, said retired British Gen. Richard Barrons, co-chair of the U.K.-based strategic consulting firm Universal Defence & Security Solutions.

The ground in that part of Ukraine is flatter, more open and less wooded — so the Ukrainian ambush tactics used around Kiev may be less successful, Barrons said.

“As to the outcome, it’s finely balanced right now,” Barrons said. If the Russians learned from their previous failures, concentrated more force, connected their air force to ground forces better and improved their logistics, “then they might start to overwhelm the Ukrainian positions eventually, although I still think it would be a battle of enormous attrition.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy pleaded for more Western aid, saying his forces need heavier firepower. In a video address to South Korean lawmakers on Monday, Zelenskyy specifically requested equipment that can shoot down Russian missiles.

But those armaments could increasingly come under attack as Russia looks to shift the balance in the 6-week-old war.

Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said the military used cruise missiles to destroy the four launchers Sunday on the southern outskirts of Dnipro. He said the military also hit such systems in the Mykolaiv and Kharkiv regions.

The Russian claims could not be independently verified.

The Pentagon said it had seen no evidence to support Russia’s claims. A senior U.S. defense official said Russia did conduct an airstrike Sunday on the airport in Dnipro, destroying some equipment, but the official said the U.S. has seen no indication that an air-defense system was knocked out.

Lubica Janikova, spokeswoman for Slovakia’s prime minister, denied Monday that the S-300 system it sent Ukraine had been destroyed. She said any other claim is not true.

Questions remain about the ability of depleted and demoralized Russian forces to conquer much ground after their advance on Kyiv was repelled by determined Ukrainian defenders.

Britain’s Defense Ministry said Monday that Ukraine has already beaten back several assaults by Russian forces in the eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions — which make up the Donbas — resulting in the destruction of Russian tanks, vehicles and artillery.

Western military analysts say Russia’s assault increasingly is focusing on an arc of territory stretching from Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, in the north, to Kherson in the south.

A residential area in Kharkiv was struck by incoming fire on Monday afternoon. Associated Press journalists saw firefighters putting out the fire and checking for victims following the attack, and saw that at least five people were killed, including a child.

Oleh Synyehubov, the regional governor of Kharkiv, said earlier Monday that Russian shelling had killed 11 people over the last 24 hours.

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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

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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