Ukraine war: Russians find no shelter in border city of Belgorod

A firefighter takes a pause as he works to extinguish burning cars following what Russian authorities say was a Ukrainian military strike in Belgorod, Russia December 30, 2023
Image caption,Last Saturday’s attack on Belgorod came within 24 hours of Russia’s biggest aerial bombardment of Ukraine so far

By Victoria Safronova

BBC News Russian

The people of Belgorod have experienced Ukrainian cross-border attacks before, but Saturday’s was the deadliest on Russian soil since the start of the war.

Twenty-five people were killed and more than 100 others hurt in the biggest Russian city in close proximity to Ukraine.

The Ukrainian missile strikes came a day after Russia launched its biggest aerial bombardment of the war so far, leaving more than 40 dead.

President Volodymyr Zelensky said this week that Russia had launched 500 missiles and drones against Ukraine in just five days.

Ukraine’s response in targeting Belgorod would not go unpunished, vowed President Vladimir Putin. But the city’s residents accuse authorities of not doing enough to keep people safe.

Air raid alerts were only audible half an hour into Saturday’s attack, local people told independent Russian media.

They were told to take cover, only for some to find that basement shelters in their apartment blocks were locked.

“Some basements have a piece of paper on the door with a mobile number for the person with the key,” one resident told the BBC. “The worst-case scenario is when the key is with the management company, and because it’s the winter holidays no-one is at work.”

The problem of sheltering from attack is far greater in Ukraine. Bombardment is far more frequent and widespread. And during the winter, because Russian attacks largely take place at night, Ukrainians are left with a choice of either sleeping in metro stations in the cities that have them, or taking their chances at home.

But in Belgorod, a Russian city of 340,000 people only half an hour from the border, one woman called Angela took to social media to complain that the emergencies ministry’s regional department knew nothing about shelters.

Russian firefighters extinguishing burning cars after shelling in Belgorod, Russia, 30 December 2023
Image caption,Belgorod is the closest major city to the Ukrainian border

“How can this be?” she said in an appeal to regional governor Vyacheslav Gladkov.

“What if someone came to the city to help relatives? How can they know what the management company is? The special military operation has been going on for two years,” she said, using the Kremlin’s phrase for the war in Ukraine.

Sergei complained of the same problem in his town of Stary Oskol, about 180km (110 miles) from the Ukrainian border: “The [local] administration isn’t taking action and just gives a standard response. If shelling happens, we don’t know where to hide.”

There have been issues with Belgorod’s shelters almost since the start of the war, according to another local woman.

“I’m really angry; everyone has been talking about it, but the shelter issue has only come to light now that we’ve had casualties,” she told the BBC, preferring to remain anonymous.

“A year and a half ago, when a multi-storey housing block was hit, everyone was looking for basements to hide in, but everything was closed. We don’t have bomb shelters – well, they exist but nobody knows the addresses and they are not made public.”

Soon after Vladimir Putin ordered the full-scale invasion in February 2022, officials in Belgorod explained that revealing where the official bomb shelters were would make them a target for the Ukrainian military.

A man rescues his cat in a block of flats after a Russian attack on the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv
Image caption,A man rescues his cat in a block of flats after a Russian attack on the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv

Instead they distributed a video explaining how to behave in the event of an air raid – by staying away from windows and moving either to the ground floor or the basement.

When Belgorod came under further attack, on 2 January, many residents left the doors to their housing blocks open so that people could take refuge from the street.

“We’re just helping each other,” said Alexander.

The regional governor has not responded publicly to residents’ complaints. The BBC has approached his press office but is yet to receive a reply.

Before the war, Belgorod historically had close ties with the far bigger Ukrainian city of Kharkiv, on the other side of the border.

And while Russian forces have repeatedly bombarded the centre of Kharkiv from Belgorod region, this border area has been affected by the war more than any other in Russia.

Irish government could pay for medics to study in NI

Student doctor

Republic of Ireland students could be subsidised to study medicine at Northern Ireland universities in exchange for returning to work south of the border.

Irish Higher Education Minister Simon Harris said he intends for the scheme to be in place from September.

Students would pay the yearly €3,000 (£2,590) fee charged in the Republic with the Irish government covering the rest.

Tuition fees in Northern Ireland are £4,750 per year.

The Irish Independent reported, external that students will receive the subsidy on the condition that they commit to working for Ireland’s Health Service Executive (HSE) for a period after graduating.

It added that Mr Harris’ department officials will meet counterparts in Northern Ireland later in January to finalise arrangements.

He said a crucial reason for the move was that the Republic of Ireland was not training enough doctors to meet demand.

“The idea behind this is very simple, we need to use every educational resource available on the island of Ireland to help meet the skills needs of the people on this island and there is probably no more important area than healthcare,” Mr Harris said.

He added that this was evident from ongoing schemes which sees Irish students go north to study.

Since last September, 80 additional places in related health disciplines were made available at Ulster University to students from the Republic.

Ireland’s Department of Health is separately funding 140 nursing students in both Queens University Belfast and Ulster University.

Mr Harris said the number of places to be subsidised had been decided yet.

The Irish Independent reported that about 40% of medics working in the Republic are from overseas and a large proportion of student medics, who often do not stay in the country to work, are also from abroad.

French booze-free January falls flat with Macron government

France's President Emmanuel Macron (R) is offered a bottle of wine as he meets residents of Baumes-de-Venise
Image caption,President Macron has said in the past he drinks wine twice a day

By Hugh Schofield

BBC News, París

France’s President Emmanuel Macron has been accused of caving in to the wine lobby by failing to lend his weight to an alcohol-free “Dry January”.

Fifty specialists on addiction wrote an open letter this week, lamenting the lack of government support for the post-festivity no-drinks campaign.

“Our confidence in the government to carry out a coherent and determined policy against alcoholism is seriously compromised,” the doctors wrote.

Dry January came to France in 2020.

In their letter to Le Monde newspaper, the doctors said the Défi de janvier (January Challenge) had become a popular social fixture since it was introduced from the UK, but its success had been achieved in the teeth of government indifference.

Several ministers have indeed distanced themselves from the call for a teetotal month, saying they preferred to encourage moderation rather than an outright booze-fast.

Marc Fesneau, the agriculture minister, said the overall decline in French alcohol consumption – down 70% in the last half century, and down 7-10% last year alone – made the Dry January campaign irrelevant and intrusive.

“I don’t think the French need to be given lessons by anyone. People are fed up with being told what to eat, what to drink, how to travel. There’s a way of life that also deserves respect,” he said.

“I’d be very suspicious if I heard the government was telling people how to live their lives for a month,” said former health minister Aurélien Rousseau when asked in early December, before his resignation, about whether he was joining Dry January.

For critics these reactions are all signs that the government, taking its cue from President Macron, has decided it is more important not to offend the wine lobby than to promote good health.

“We know full well that with this government, and above all with this president, the links with the alcohol lobby are particularly strong,” said addictologist Jean-Pierre Couteron.

Supporters of Dry January say France is still Europe’s fourth largest consumer of alcohol, and that alcohol is responsible for more than 40,000 French deaths every year.

French President Emmanuel Macron drinks beer as he concludes a two-day government meeting in the northern German port city of Hamburg in October 2023
Image caption,President Macron was accused of encouraging binge drinking when he downed a bottle after a rugby final

And they say that a campaign that enjoyed government financial and moral backing would reach far more people than the 16,000 who signed up in 2023.

The allegation that the president personally discouraged support for Dry January is backed by his very public endorsement of alcohol in the past.

In 2022 he was elected Personality of the Year by the Review of French Wines magazine after he said he drank wine twice every day, at lunch and at dinner.

Last June he was filmed downing a bottle of Corona beer in one, in the changing room of the Stade Toulousain rugby team at the Stade de France – inviting accusations that he was encouraging binge drinking.

With the wine industry bringing in €9bn (£7.7bn; $10bn) in foreign sales every year, the decision to champion French winemakers is certainly rational. But critics say drinking publicly is also partly a man-of-the-people act that the president puts on to counter the charge that he is “out-of-touch”.

French report criticises UK effort on small boats

Migrants packed tightly onto a small inflatable boat attempt to cross the English Channel near the Dover Strait
Image caption,In total, more than 100,000 people have come to the UK in small boats since 2020

By Tom Symonds

Home Affairs correspondent

The UK is not passing on enough information about small boats crossing the Channel, a French report has said.

The Court of Accounts, which audits spending in France, said intelligence provided to French police was often “first level” and “very general”.

It said France needed more details about the boats and engines being used by criminal gangs.

The UK Home Office said the report used outdated information and didn’t reflect the countries’ current relationship.

The UK’s National Crime Agency(NCA) said it had a close relationship with French law enforcement and border agencies.

But the Court of Accounts report on the battle against illegal migration concludes that the relationship between France and the UK is “unequal in terms of the exchange of information and intelligence”.

Britain has set aside nearly £500m for France to spend on strengthening its policing of the dunes and beaches along the Calais coast in northern France.

This is where smugglers usher migrants into boats in the early hours, to begin the perilous crossing.

The report says this funding has contributed to the nightly deployment of 54 police officers backed up by 135 reservists.

They use night vision equipment and drones to spot the migrants, and motorbikes and beach buggies to stop them getting to the water.

The NCA is focused further back in the supply chain on the gangs sourcing large inflatable boats and engines.

The government agency works with law enforcement bodies across Europe to develop intelligence about the trafficking gangs.

Recently, NCA Director General Graeme Biggar said 100 boats or engines had been stopped from reaching the shores of France.

But the French Court of Accounts suggests the UK is not pulling its weight.

“Despite the joint declaration of French and British interior ministers on 14 November 2022, who were committed to improving the work of dismantling the criminal gangs and their resources, the British are not communicating exploitable intelligence on the departures of the small boats, or are giving ‘first level’ information, which is very general and not cross-referenced,” the court said on Thursday.

“Concerning the ways in which the migrants are arriving, the references or serial numbers of boats or engines, and the nationalities, the information seems very fragmented,” the court concluded.

The NCA has stepped up efforts in Europe to tackle criminal people smugglers in the last year.

It said British officers were now working on the French coast alongside the Gendarmerie.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “This report is based on out-of-date information and does not accurately reflect our current working relationship, including intelligence sharing, with France.”

The department says 84% of migrants prevented from crossing to the UK were intercepted on the beach or inland.

It recently said police had arrested 246 people smugglers in 2023 and 86 people who had “piloted” small boats across the Channel.

The NCA’s focus on the infrastructure behind the movement of migrants across the Channel has resulted in the seizure of 136 boats and 45 outboard engines, the agency said.

The government claims to have prevented 26,000 attempted crossings, as a result of the partnership with France.

The British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and French President Emmanuel Macron have agreed to double the number of French officers deployed and to further improve the technology being used on France’s beaches.

Swedish snow chaos leaves 1,000 vehicles trapped on main E22 road

People who got trapped in 1,000 vehicles in heavy snow for more than 24 hours have been evacuated, Swedish authorities say.

Rescuers worked through the night to free people stuck on the main E22 road in the Skane area of southern Sweden.

Many of those trapped were evacuated by rescue teams and told to return to their cars later.

The travel chaos occurred amid plummeting winter temperatures across the Nordic countries.

Extreme cold weather has hit parts of Sweden, Finland and Norway, and snow storms in Denmark have left drivers trapped on a motorway near Aarhus since Wednesday.

The Kvikkjokk-Arrenjarka weather station in northern Sweden recorded its coldest night for 25 years on Tuesday night, with temperatures dropping to -43.6C.

Rescuers said all people travelling by car had been evacuated and only lorry drivers remained in their vehicles by Thursday morning. Authorities said later they were still working to free around 180 trucks.

The disruption on the main E22 began at about 09:00 local time (08:00 GMT) on Wednesday when snow made the E22 impassable in both directions between Horby and Kristianstad. Hundreds of cars ground to a halt in snowdrifts.

“It is total chaos,” police spokesperson Evelina Olsson said.

Snow ploughs arrived on Wednesday evening and police and rescuers worked through the night to free people in the hundreds of trapped cars. Some had medical issues, including diabetes.

Trucks wait in a queue as vehicles are still stuck along the European route E22, in Linderod, southern Sweden, 04 January 2024
Image caption,Rescue teams began clearing cars from the snowbound E22 but many of the lorries were expected to remain on the road until Friday

Erika Sepeliovaite told Aftonbladet website that she and her two children and her dog were freed after 19 hours.

Malin Johansson, 56, from Ahus, said she and her partner had started their car at regular intervals to keep it warm. She told Expressen they were freed when rescuers cut the road’s central barrier, allowing them to leave at 04:30 on Thursday.

The army was dispatched to deliver food and water to the people trapped.

“The problem is that it is snowing so heavily that the road is covered in snow just half an hour after ploughing,” Ms Olsson said.

On Thursday morning many of the cars had been cleared, although lorries were still stuck. Police said conditions were beginning to improve but added that the road would not be cleared until 08:00 on Friday at the earliest.

Buses and trains were cancelled in the Skane region on Thursday morning and authorities urged people to avoid non-essential travel.

Second man dies after Dublin restaurant shooting

Police at the scene of the shooting
Image caption,The man had been in a critical condition in hospital for a week and a half after being shot

A man who was shot at a restaurant in the Republic of Ireland on Christmas Eve has died in hospital.

Irish broadcaster RTÉ has named the victim as 48-year-old Jason Hennessy Snr.

He was shot during a gun attack in Browne’s Steakhouse on Main Street in Blanchardstown, Dublin just after 20:00 local time.

Twenty-six-year-old Tristan Sherry, believed to be the gunman, was tackled at the scene and taken to hospital but was pronounced dead a short time later.

Both men are known to police for their involvement in organised crime, according to RTÉ.

Gardaí (Irish police) have now opened a second murder investigation arising from the incident.

Twenty-two-year-old Michael Andrecut, with an address at Sheephill Avenue in Dublin, has been charged with Mr Sherry’s murder.

He appeared at a special sitting of the Criminal Court of Justice on Saturday morning.

Mr Andrecut was remanded into custody and is due to appear before Cloverhill District Court on Tuesday 2 February.

A second man has been charged in connection with the fatal assault, and is due to appear before Blanchardstown District Court on Friday morning.

A third man who was arrested over Mr Sherry’s murder remains in custody at a garda station in west Dublin.

Last week, Ireland’s justice minister condemned the viciousness of the attack which resulted in “unimaginable human suffering this Christmas.”

Taoiseach (Irish prime minister) Leo Varadkar said he was “shocked” by the attack.

Gardaí have launched a second murder investigation.

Hamburg hospital fire kills four patients

A volunteer firefighter works at the fire in the hospital near Hamburg
Image caption,The four people confirmed dead in the blaze were all said to be patients

Four people have died in a fire at a hospital near Hamburg, in northern Germany.

The fire reportedly broke out at around 22:45 local time (21:45 GMT) on Thursday on the third floor of the Helios Clinic in Uelzen.

Around 20 people were said to be injured, and police said that that the number of dead could rise given the seriousness of some injuries.

Authorities are investigating the cause of the blaze.

140 firefighters and rescue workers, including some from neighbouring districts, fought to contain the fire. People were rescued from the clinic, some using ladders, according to reports.

Police said “calls for help were heard” from inside the building.

Uelzen is located some 70km (43 miles) south east of Hamburg.

The four people confirmed dead were all said to be patients.

But police said the number of dead could rise. “There are other people so seriously injured that their lives are in acute danger,” said spokesman Michel Koenemann.

The fire is estimated to have caused around €1m (£862,000) in damages.

The Helios Clinic is the teaching hospital of the Hannover Medical School. The clinic’s website says it has about 750 employees and treats some 42,000 patients every year.

Second man charged with Dublin restaurant murder

Police at the scene of the shooting
Image caption,Tristan Sherry died after he was assaulted during a gun attack at Browne’s Steakhouse in Blanchardstown

A second man has appeared in court charged with the murder of Tristan Sherry in a restaurant in the Republic of Ireland on Christmas Eve.

Mr Sherry, 26, was a gunman in an attack at Browne’s Steakhouse on Main Street in Blanchardstown on Sunday 24 December when he died.

David Amah, 18, of Hazel Grove, Portrane Road in Donabate, County Dublin, appeared before Blanchardstown District Court charged with his murder.

Michael Andrecut, 22, with an address at Sheephill Avenue, previously appeared in court charged with Mr Sherry’s murder.

In court on Friday, a Garda (Irish police) sergeant said Mr Amah made no reply when charged shortly after 18:00 local time on Thursday.

He was granted legal aid and put back into custody. He is due in court again on 9 January.

Garda officers at the scene in Blanchardstown, Dublin, where a man aged in his 20s was pronounced dead after being injured during a shooting incident at Browne's Steakhouse restaurant on Christmas Eve.
Image caption,A second man shot in the same incident died on Thursday

Meanwhile, Wayne Deegan, of Linnetsfield Avenue, Phibblestown in Dublin, appeared in court in connection to the same incident.

He is charged with assault causing harm, violent disorder and producing a knife on 24 December.

He was granted legal aid and remanded in custody to appear on 12 January.

A second man shot in the same restaurant incident, who was named by Irish broadcaster RTÉ as 48-year-old Jason Hennessy Snr, died on Thursday.

A murder investigation is now under way into his death.

Ukraine war: US says Russia using North Korea ballistic missiles

Ballistic missiles launched by Russia hit Ukraine's capital Kyiv on 2 January
Image caption,Ballistic missiles launched by Russia hit Ukraine’s capital Kyiv on 2 January

Russia has used ballistic missiles and launchers supplied by North Korea in its war on Ukraine, the US has said.

National Security Council spokesman John Kirby called it a “significant and concerning escalation” relating to Pyongyang’s support for Russia.

He said the US would raise the matter at the UN Security Council and impose additional sanctions on those working to facilitate arms transfers.

Moscow has denied any such collaboration.

Hours after the White House made the accusations, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un called for missile launch vehicle production to be expanded in the country.

The North Korean leader visited Russia to discuss potential military co-operation in September.

The US has previously accused Pyongyang of supplying Russia with weapons, but this is the first time US intelligence has shared details about ballistic missiles – self-guided rockets that can reach targets 900km (500 miles) away.

It is unclear what North Korea will get in return for providing the weapons to Russia. Some Western countries have raised concerns over the potential transfer of weapons or military technologies to Pyongyang.

In 2017, a report by the International Institute for Strategic Studies think tank suggested that North Korea was able to quickly develop new missiles by obtaining a Soviet RD-250 rocket engine from illicit channels operating in Russia or Ukraine. Ukraine denied the allegation and said Russia was to blame.

But that year, North Korea was able to rapidly expand its missile arsenal, introducing two new systems: the medium-range Hwasong-12 and the intercontinental Hwasong-14.

Speaking during a White House press briefing on Thursday, Mr Kirby said Russia’s procurement of ballistic missiles from North Korea was a direct violation of numerous UN Security Council resolutions.

“We will demand that Russia be held accountable for yet again violating its international obligations,” he said.

He also said the US believed Russia was planning on purchasing close-range missiles from Iran, but that it had not done so yet.

The UK said it “strongly condemns” Russia’s use of ballistic missiles sourced from North Korea in Ukraine.

“North Korea is subject to a robust sanctions regime, and we will continue to work with our partners to ensure that North Korea pays a high price for supporting Russia’s illegal war in Ukraine,” a spokesperson for the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office said.

In his briefing, Mr Kirby also urged US Congress to approve extra US funding for Ukraine “without delay”.

“The most effective response to Russia’s horrific violence against the Ukrainian people is to continue to provide Ukraine with vital air defence capabilities and other types of military equipment,” he said.

“Iran and the DPRK [North Korea] are standing with Russia. Ukrainians deserve to know that the American people and this government will continue to stand with them.”

The last US military aid package to Ukraine, worth some $250m (£195m), was approved by the White House on 27 December.

Talks on further funding have stalled in Congress because of a lack of support among Republicans, who insist that tougher security measures on the US-Mexico border must be part of any military aid deal.

Ukraine has warned that its war effort and the country’s public finances are at risk if further Western aid does not come soon.