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At Venice Biennale, Ukrainian artists defy Russia’s invasion | Russia-Ukraine war News



Venice, Italy – When Russia launched its full-scale military invasion of Ukraine in February, Kyiv-based artist Zhanna Kadyrova suddenly questioned whether her 20-year career counted for anything, now that her family and country were in mortal danger.

“At that moment, I thought that art was nothing in this situation,” she said, speaking at her exhibition on the sidelines of this year’s Venice Biennale art festival, which opens to the public on Saturday.

But with her sister, mother and aunt sent to safety in Germany, she and her partner travelled to the remote Carpathian village of Berezovo in Western Ukraine.

There she resumed her artistic practice with the aim of raising money for armoured vests and helmets for front-line troops, as well as an organisation that supports the elderly in Kyiv with food and medicine.

Her exhibition, Palianytsia, which means bread in Ukrainian, features large stones taken from Berezovo, which she has smoothed into loaf-like shapes and sliced. Since the invasion, this everyday word, which is difficult to pronounce for Russians, has gained a new political valence – a shibboleth separating friends from enemies.

“This stone bread, I changed to real bread for people,” she told Al Jazeera.

Ukranian artist Zhanna Kadyrova's exhibition features stones she took from the village to which she fled after Russia invaded Ukraine in February [Ruairi Casey/Al Jazeera]
Kadyrova’s exhibition features stones she took from Berezovo, western Ukraine, where she fled after Russia invaded Ukraine [Ruairi Casey/Al Jazeera]

The war in Ukraine has left its mark on the 59th edition of the world’s most prestigious art event, with Ukrainian artists using it as a showcase of resistance to Russia’s aggression against their people and their culture.

This year’s Ukrainian national pavilion features the work of Pavlo Markov, whose Fountain of Exhaustion sculpture consists of 78 bronze funnels arranged in a triangle, through which water drips steadily down, before being recycled.

The project was conceived in the eastern city of Kharkiv in the mid-1990s, when the city’s water supply was damaged, and became a way for the artist to engage with what he saw as a lack of cultural and political vitality in the new Ukrainian nation that emerged following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The sculpture’s journey from Kyiv to Venice was fraught. Just after Russia’s military began the invasion, curator Maria Lanko packed the funnels in her car and made a beeline for the Polish border, taking almost a week to reach Italy.

In Milan, she found a workshop that would recreate the parts she was unable to bring.

“I really was determined to bring out the funnels at least to Venice and to still be present here,” she told Al Jazeera.

Markov and his family remained in a makeshift bomb shelter in Kharkiv’s Yermilov Arts Centre for a week, even as bombs were falling. His ageing mother had refused to leave the city until a Russian missile destroyed a nearby house.

At a news conference to launch the Ukrainian pavilion on Wednesday, Markov drew comparisons between the present-day situation of Ukrainian culture and the “executed renaissance”, a generation of Ukrainian artists and writers brutally repressed by Stalin in the 1930s. “Behind any war, there is a cultural conflict,” he said.

Markov dismissed the idea of art being able to open space for dialogue or bridge the cultural and political chasm that now separates Russia and Ukraine.

“The only dialogue that’s still possible is at the front. Maybe later, after Russian troops go back home, and the war criminals will be prosecuted, we will be able, maybe, to start this dialogue. Before this, unfortunately, it’s impossible.”

‘Cultural resistance’

The pavilion’s curatorial team have also produced the Piazza Ucraina, an open-air exhibition which stands at the centre of Venice’s Giardini della Biennale.

Only a short walk away, attendees peer into the empty Russian pavilion, left abandoned after the artists and curator pulled out, calling the war “politically and emotionally unbearable”.

At the piazza looms a tower of sandbags, a replica of the protective measures taken to preserve Ukrainian statues from damage, such as those of national poet Taras Shevchenko in Kyiv or the Duke de Richelieu in Odesa.

Around it, posters are pasted to charred wooden posts, displaying works by Ukrainian artists created since the invasion, either submitted for the event or posted to social media.

Some are fierce markers of defiance: a mother and child proudly raising their middle fingers, or a crowd pushing back a Russian armoured truck. Others reference the many atrocities committed by Russian troops, including the widespread rape of Ukrainian women.

Red ballpoint pen sketches by the artist Daniil Nemyrovskyi, who had been trapped in the besieged Black Sea port of Mariupol, show bleak scenes of people hunched close together in bunkers with meagre rations spread on a wooden table.

Each work is stamped with its exact date of creation, as if it were a piece of evidence. New posters will be added over the course of the Biennale by the Wartime Art Archive, run by the Ukrainian Emergency Art Fund (UEAF), which helps artists with financial support or access to residencies abroad.

“When the war started this usual perception of time and timeline immediately disappeared,” said Ilya Zabolotnyi, head of the UEAF.  “I have a feeling that it’s one huge constant day.”

The piazza will also host talks about the role of art and culture in the conflict.

“Our public programme is focused on this cultural resistance and on the decolonising of this imperialistic narrative of Russia: refusing Ukraine to exist, refusing our identity and our difference from them,” said Lanko.

Ukrainian art also features at other events and exhibitions related to the Biennale, which will be open to the public until November 27.

The curator of this year’s main exhibition, Cecilia Alemani, added a gouache titled, Scarecrow, by Maria Prymachenko, a Ukrainian artist best known for her work in the 1930s who drew on folk traditions, some of whose work has been destroyed by Russian bombing. Alemani said the addition was “a sign of solidarity [with] Ukrainian culture”.

Another collateral Biennale exhibition, This is Ukraine: Defending Freedom, features works by international artists including Damien Hirst and Marina Abramovic, as well as a blue and yellow sign with a handwritten message from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

Outside her exhibition on the seafront, Kadyrova has surprised the passing crowds of tourists and art-goers by playing an air raid siren from a loudspeaker three times each evening.

Some scurry away, some become emotional and others cover their ears.

“I hope that they understand,” she told Al Jazeera. “Because I see a lot of people completely misunderstand our situation. It’s strange, because for me everything is clear.”

Attendees at the pre-opening of the Venice Biennale peer into the empty Russian pavilion, which closed after the artists and curator pulled out [Ruairi Casey/Al Jazeera]
Attendees at the pre-opening of the Venice Biennale peer into the empty Russian pavilion, which closed after the artists and curator pulled out [Ruairi Casey/Al Jazeera]

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‘Worse than predicted’: G7 meets to keep climate action on track | Climate Crisis News



Environmental groups warn nations risk undermining their green goals by scrambling to secure new sources of natural gas to make up for shortfalls in supplies from Russia.

Ministers from the world’s wealthiest democracies will wrangle over how to keep climate change goals on track as they meet in Berlin on Thursday for talks overshadowed by surging energy costs and fuel supply worries sparked by the war in Ukraine.

Energy, climate and environment ministers from the Group of Seven (G7) countries want to reaffirm a commitment to cap global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) and protect biodiversity at the meeting.

They will seek to agree on common targets for the shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy that scientists say is urgently needed to curb catastrophic climate change.

Alden Meyer, senior associate at climate think-tank E3G, said tackling climate change was the best and quickest way for countries to achieve energy security.

“Climate impacts are worse than scientists originally predicted and there’s far worse ahead if we don’t cut emissions rapidly,” Meyer said. “Delivering on climate promises really becomes even more vital in this tense geopolitical environment.”

The ministers will consider committing to a phase-out of coal power generation by 2030, according to a draft communique, though sources suggested that opposition from the United States and Japan could derail such a pledge.

‘Ecological transformation’

Germany’s energy and climate minister said the G7 can lead the way on ending the use of coal, a heavily polluting fossil fuel that is responsible for a large chunk of global greenhouse gas emissions.

“The G-7 … can perhaps take on a certain pioneering role to push forward ending the use of coal for electricity and in decarbonising the transport system,” Robert Habeck said.

Habeck said the issue could be carried forward to the G7 leaders’ summit in Elmau, Germany, next month and then to the meeting of the Group of 20 leading and emerging economies later this year. Getting G20 countries to sign on to the ambitious targets set by some of the most advanced economies will be key, as countries such as China, India and Indonesia remain heavily reliant on coal.

It would be wrong to view efforts countries are making to tackle the current energy crisis, stoked by Russia’s war in Ukraine, as countering efforts to end fossil fuel use, Habeck said.

“What we are seeing at the moment is an acceleration of the ecological transformation,” he said.

Environmental groups have warned countries such as Germany risk undermining their green goals by scrambling to secure new sources of natural gas – including from the United States – to make up for the shortfall in supplies from Russia.

Fossil fuel subsidies

The meeting in Berlin will also seek to reach agreements on boosting financial aid for poor countries to cope with climate change, additional funds for biodiversity, protecting oceans and reducing plastic pollution.

The draft communique, which could change considerably by the time talks conclude on Friday, would also commit G7 countries to have a “net zero electricity sector by 2035” and to start reporting publicly next year on how they are delivering on a past G7 commitment to end “inefficient” fossil fuel subsidies by 2025.

Campaigners urged the ministers of the G7 to make clear commitments that the fallout of the Ukraine war would not derail their climate targets.

“We have a new reality now. The G7 need to respond to that, and they should respond through renewables and not through fossil fuel infrastructure,” said David Ryfisch, climate policy expert at non-profit Germanwatch.

While seeking consensus on an oil embargo on Russia, the European Union is pushing to accelerate the bloc’s pivot to renewable energy while finding fossil fuel alternatives to Russian supplies.

Ahead of the meeting, the B7 group of leading business and industry federations of the G7 states called on the group to back a plan along the lines of German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s “climate club” to harmonise standards on emissions and CO2 pricing.

Scholz had suggested the idea to try to avoid trade friction in areas including green tariffs, the development of markets for decarbonised products, carbon pricing, and removal methods.

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Former NATO general says Putin has 8-9 month window to win war | Russia-Ukraine war News



A resurgent Russian army has refocused its hitherto lumbering efforts to claim Ukraine’s east, making its first significant advances there in the 13th week of the war.

Russian forces have re-launched offensives at three main points to surround a spearhead of Ukrainian defenders, at Izyum to the north, Severodonetsk to the east, and Popasna to the south.

At Popasna, combined forces of Russian conscripts and mercenaries from the Wagner group broke through Ukrainian defences, taking several settlements on May 20. Three days later, they captured Myronovsky, the starting point of a highway leading to Sloviansk, where all three prongs of the Russian attack are likely aiming to converge.

On the northern front, Russian artillery at Izyum sprang to life at the same time, in what Ukrainian authorities described as the opening act to a full assault.

Russian forces appear to be attempting a pincer movement from Izyum and Popasna to isolate Ukraine’s entire tactical army of about 50,000 men in the Luhansk and Donetsk regions to the east.

On May 21, the battle for Severodonetsk, the easternmost Ukrainian-held city, began in earnest. To the city’s east, a punishing bombardment began. To its west, Russian military bloggers said Russian forces destroyed one of two bridges connecting the city to Lysychansk across the Siversky Donetsk river and complicating Ukrainian lines of supply.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Russia’s bombardment was turning the Donbas into “hell”.

The governor of Luhansk, Serhiy Haidai, said Severodonetsk remained firmly in Ukrainian hands on May 24 amid darkening prospects.

“The situation is very difficult and unfortunately it is only getting worse. It is getting worse with every day and even with every hour,” Haidai said in a video on Telegram. “Shelling is increasing more and more. The Russian army has decided to completely destroy [key city] Severodonetsk.”

Russia’s tactics are now notorious in the southern port of Mariupol, which finally surrendered on May 21 after more than two months of aerial and artillery bombardment that have reduced the city to rubble.

Armies cannot turn on a dime

Ukraine has fought valiantly and driven the Russians back from the northern cities of Kyiv, Chernihiv, Sumy and Kharkiv in recent weeks, but its counteroffensive has not been sustained because Ukrainian forces need time to assimilate Western military equipment, a retired NATO commander said.

“Tanks and armoured vehicles need an initial stage of personal training and team training for the driver, gunner, reloader and commander,” said Lt-Gen Konstantinos Loukopoulos, who has taught tank warfare at military academies in Kyiv and Moscow.

“They need tactical training, including test firing and exercises, which cannot be done in a few weeks. The training cycle is at least six months, and that doesn’t change in wartime,” he said.

“After [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s illusions about winning the war in 96 hours, the illusions began on the Western side,” he added.

The United States, United Kingdom, Canada, France, Germany and the Czech Republic are among those who have pledged various types of armour and artillery, and that complicates matters, Loukopoulos said.

For instance, out of 90 howitzer M777 artillery pieces sent by the US to Ukraine, about 18 have been absorbed, he said, adding that it is unknown how many of the 12 or 14 César self-propelled howitzers sent by France are in use.

“For Ukraine to absorb the weapons from the West and make them operational, form the right units, and train them, it needs eight, nine months. It can’t pull active units from the front to train them,” Loukopoulos said.

That is the timeframe, he believes, within which Putin must win the war on the ground and reach a negotiated settlement.

“Under the present balance of forces, the general trend is in favour of the Russians. Right now nothing can change that,” he said.

“After a few months, with training of reserve units, there could be a [Ukrainian] strategic counteroffensive that could throw the Russians out.”

Loukopoulos believes this could likely be done by Ukraine seizing Russian territory that it could exchange for its own territory in negotiations.

“Can the Ukrainians create a fact on the ground to counter Russian gains? Right now they cannot,” he said.

“Whether we like it or not, Russia has the political and military initiative. The West is reacting to what Putin is doing.”

The fate of Mariupol

Adding to Ukraine’s woes was the final surrender of Mariupol on May 21.

Days earlier, Ukraine had given the port city’s last defenders the order to cease fighting in an effort to save their lives.

Russia said it now holds 2,431 Ukrainian prisoners of war (POWs) who had been holed up in the underground nuclear bunkers of the Azovstal metallurgical complex. To back up claims that it is de-Nazifying Ukraine, Moscow released video of surrendering soldiers stripped to reveal tattoos of swastikas and Adolph Hitler.

The surrender not only deprived Ukraine of a large number of experienced fighters, who might be swapped for Russian POWs, it also marked the fall of a symbol of Ukrainian resistance against the odds.

Denis Pushilin, the leader of the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic, said the Azovstal plant will not be restored.

Instead, he said, Mariupol will be developed as a resort town. His reasoning was that Western sanctions will hamper sales of iron and steel exports from Russian-controlled territory, but Mariupol can benefit from Russia’s economic isolation by wooing a captive Russian tourism market.

The Azovstal plant once exported thousands of tonnes of iron and steel. It was one of two metallurgical plants in the city, representing a $2bn investment by Metinvest. The Ukrainian government, too, had invested $600m in remodelling the city with new roads, parks and a children’s hospital.

Mariupol’s Ukrainian municipal authority believes Russia’s victory over the city killed an estimated 22,000 civilians. The attack on the city also displaced three-quarters of the population and reduced the city to rubble. The city’s new Russian occupiers admit that 60 percent of its buildings are damaged beyond repair.

The apocalyptic reality of the Russian victory at Mariupol may drive Ukrainian determination to fight along the eastern front. The question is whether Ukrainian material shortages will be insurmountable.

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UN Security Council sets vote on tougher North Korea sanctions | United Nations News



Vote was called by the US after Pyongyang launched three missiles in the space of an hour, including an intercontinental ballistic missile.

The United Nations Security Council will vote on Thursday on a US push to strengthen sanctions on North Korea over a spate of recent ballistic missile launches, a move that China, which has a veto in the council, has said would not solve any problems.

The vote comes a day after Pyongyang fired three missiles, including one thought to be its largest intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), the latest in a string of banned ballistic missile launches that the country has carried out this year.

Security Council Resolution 2397, which was adopted unanimously in 2017, talked of further consequences in the event of another ICBM launch.

“That was a provision of that resolution. That’s precisely what happened and so we feel it’s now time to take action,” a senior US official told the AFP news agency on condition of anonymity.

The draft resolution would “further restrict North Korea’s ability to advance its unlawful WMD (weapons of mass destruction) and ballistic missile programmes, it would streamline sanctions implementation and further facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid to those in need,” a US official told the Reuters news agency.

North Korea has been subject to UN sanctions since 2006, which the Security Council has steadily – and unanimously – stepped up over the years to cut off funding for Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programmes.

China and Russia, however, have been pushing for an easing of sanctions on humanitarian grounds telling a council meeting on May 11 that they wanted to see new talks and not more punishment. Russia also has a veto in the council.

“We don’t think a resolution as proposed by the US can solve any problem,” China’s UN Mission said in a statement on Wednesday evening.

China proposed in recent weeks that the US consider a presidential statement instead of a resolution, which “was supported by many delegations but fell on deaf ears of the US,” the statement said. “They know what is the best way for de-escalation, but simply resist it.”

The draft US resolution would target tobacco, crude oil and fuel exports, and expand a a ban on ballistic missile launches to apply to cruise missiles or “any other delivery system capable of delivering nuclear weapons”, according to Reuters.

It would also impose an asset freeze on the Lazarus hacking group, which UN monitors said earlier this year that Pyongyang had used to steal hundreds of millions of dollars in cyberattacks.

Earlier this week, US President Joe Biden wrapped up his first visit to Asia, after reaffirming the US commitment to support Japan and South Korea in the face of the North’s nuclear threat.

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