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Russia accused of ‘kidnapping’ head of Ukraine nuclear plant

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KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — A senior Ukrainian official says Russian forces on Saturday shelled a civilian evacuation convoy in the country’s northeast, killing 20 people. Bombardments have intensified as Moscow illegally annexed a swath of Ukrainian territory in a sharp escalation of the war.

Kharkiv region Gov. Oleh Syniehubov said the convoy was struck in the Kupiansy district, calling the attack on people who were trying to flee the area to avoid being shelled “сruelty that can’t be justified.”

Russian forces have not acknowledged or commented on the attack, apparently the second in two days to hit a humanitarian convoy. Russian troops have retreated from much of the Kharkiv region after a successful Ukrainian counteroffensive last month but continued to shell the area.

The attack comes at a pivotal moment in Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war. Facing a Ukrainian counteroffensive, Putin this week heightened threats of nuclear force and used his most aggressive, anti-Western rhetoric to date.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and his military vowed to keep fighting to liberate the annexed regions and other Russian-occupied areas.

Ukrainian officials said Saturday that their forces had surrounded thousands of Russian forces holding the strategic eastern city of Lyman, which is located in one of the four incorporated areas. Zelenskyy formally applied Friday for Ukraine to join NATO, increasing pressure on Western allies to help defend the country.

Also Saturday Ukraine’s nuclear power provider said that Russian forces blindfolded and detained the head of Europe’s largest nuclear plant. It appeared to be an attempt to secure Moscow’s hold on the newly annexed territory.

Russian forces seized the director-general of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, Ihor Murashov, around 4 p.m. Friday, Ukrainian state nuclear company Energoatom said. That was just hours after Putin signed treaties to absorb Moscow-controlled Ukrainian territory into Russia, including the area around the nuclear plant.

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Energoatom said Russian troops stopped Murashov’s car, blindfolded him and then took him to an undisclosed location.

Russia did not immediately acknowledge seizing the plant director. The International Atomic Energy Agency, which has staff at the plant, said it was aware of the reports of Murashov’s capture, and had contacted Russian authorities for clarification on what happened.

“His detention by (Russia) jeopardizes the safety of Ukraine and Europe’s largest nuclear power plant,” said Energoatom President Petro Kotin said, demanding the director’s immediate release.

The power plant repeatedly has been caught in the crossfire of the war in Ukraine. Ukrainian technicians continued running it after Russian troops seized the power station, and its last reactor was shut down in September as a precautionary measure amid ongoing shelling nearby.

Amid growing international sanctions and condemnation of Russia, a Ukrainian counteroffensive that has embarrassed the Kremlin appeared on the verge of retaking more ground.

A Ukrainian official said Saturday that the Russian-occupied city of Lyman was surrounded, with some 5,000 Russian forces trapped there. Luhansk Gov. Serhiy Haidai claimed that all routes to resupply Russian forces in Lyman were blocked.

“The occupiers asked their leadership for the opportunity to leave, which they refused,” Haidai said in a television interview. “Now they have three options: to try to break through, to surrender or to die together.”

His claims could not immediately be verified. Russia has not confirmed its forces were cut off, and Russian analysts had said Moscow was sending more troops to the area.

The Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank, said Ukraine likely will retake Lyman in the coming days.

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Citing Russian reports, the institute said it appeared Russian forces were retreating from Lyman, some 160 kilometers (100 miles) southeast of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city. That corresponds to online videos purportedly showing some Russian forces falling back as a Ukrainian soldier said they had reached Lyman’s outskirts.

It said Ukraine also was making “incremental” gains around Kupiansk and the eastern bank of the Oskil River, which became a key front line since the Ukrainian counteroffensive regained control of the Kharkiv region in September.

The Russian army struck the southern Ukrainian city of Mykolaiv twice overnight, once with drones and the second time with missiles, according to regional Gov. Vitaliy Kim. The first attack was conducted with Iranian Shahed-136 kamikaze drones and the second with S-300 missiles, he said on Telegram.

One of the rockets hit a five-story apartment building in the city center, while windows of the surrounding houses were blown out. In another part of the city, a private house and a two-story residential building suffered extensive damage. Five people were injured, including a 3-month-old baby, Kim said.

In its heaviest barrage in weeks, Russia’s military on Friday pounded Ukrainian cities with missiles, rockets and suicide drones, with one strike in the Zaporizhzhia region’s capital killing 30 and wounding 88.

In a daily intelligence briefing Saturday, the British Defense Ministry said the Russians “almost certainly” struck a humanitarian convoy there with S-300 anti-aircraft missiles. Russia is increasingly using anti-aircraft missiles to conduct attacks on the ground likely due to a lack of munitions, the British military said.

“Russia is expending strategically valuable military assets in attempts to achieve tactical advantage and in the process is killing civilians it now claims are its own citizens,” it said.

The attack came while Putin was preparing to sign the annexation treaties, which included the Zaporizhzhia region. Russian-installed officials in Zaporizhzhia blamed Ukrainian forces, but gave no evidence.

Russia now claims sovereignty over 15% of Ukraine, in what NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg called “the largest attempted annexation of European territory by force since the Second World War.” The NATO chief was meeting Saturday with Denmark’s prime minister amid investigations into explosions on Russian pipelines in the Baltic Sea.

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Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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Remember last year’s Memorial Day travel jams? Chances are they will be much worse this year

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Remember last year’s Memorial Day travel jams? Chances are they will be much worse this year

The patience of Memorial Day weekend travelers was tested Thursday by widespread delays across the country, but there were relatively few canceled flights, raising hopes that airlines can handle bigger crowds expected Friday.

By early evening on the East Coast, more than 6,000 flights had been delayed Thursday, with the biggest backups at the three major airports in the New York City area and Dallas-Fort Worth International.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pasha Pidlubniak waits for a domestic flight at Miami International Airport, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Miami. A record number of Americans are expected to travel over the 2024 Memorial Day holiday. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

 

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Pasha Pidlubniak waits for a domestic flight at Miami International Airport, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Miami. A record number of Americans are expected to travel over the 2024 Memorial Day holiday. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

 

The Transportation Security Administration predicted that Friday will be the busiest day for air travel over the holiday weekend, with nearly 3 million people expected to pass through airport checkpoints. It could rival the record of 2.9 million, set on the Sunday after Thanksgiving last year.

“Airports are going to be more packed than we have seen in 20 years,” said Aixa Diaz, a spokesperson for AAA.

When they aren’t waiting out flight delays, travelers are reporting sticker shock at the prices.

At Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, Larisa Latimer of New Lenox, Illinois, said her airfare was reasonable but other expenses for a getaway to New Orleans were not.

 

 

 

 

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Motorists travel along Interstate 24 near the Interstate 40 interchange Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Nashville, Tenn. A record number of Americans are expected to hit the pavement over the 2024 Memorial Day holiday. (AP Photo/George Walker IV)

 

Motorists travel along Interstate 24 near the Interstate 40 interchange Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Nashville, Tenn. A record number of Americans are expected to hit the pavement over the 2024 Memorial Day holiday. (AP Photo/George Walker IV)

 

“I just have to make the accommodation,” she said. “The rental car is up … this year, the hotel accommodations were very unusually expensive.”

Kathy Larko of Fort Meyers, Florida, used frequent-flyer miles — and some flexible scheduling — to pay for her trip to Chicago.

“I’m really conscious of looking at the cost of the entire trip. We’re staying a little farther out than we normally would” to get a lower hotel rate, she said. “We’re also flying back a day later, because we could get cheaper miles.”

More travelers will be on the road. AAA estimates that 43.8 million people will venture at least 50 miles (80 kilometers) from home between Thursday and Monday, with 38 million of them taking vehicles.

 
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Travelers wait at a TSA checkpoint at the Los Angeles International Airport, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Los Angeles. A record number of Americans are expected to travel over the 2024 Memorial Day holiday. (AP Photo/Ryan Sun)

 

Travelers wait at a TSA checkpoint at the Los Angeles International Airport, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Los Angeles. A record number of Americans are expected to travel over the 2024 Memorial Day holiday. (AP Photo/Ryan Sun)

 

Airport unions are using the holiday weekend to highlight their demands.

About 100 workers who clean airplane cabins and drive trash trucks at the airport in Charlotte, North Carolina, started a 24-hour strike Thursday, demanding better pay and healthcare, according to the Service Employees International Union. About 15% of flights were delayed, but it was unclear whether the strike played any role.

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A planned strike at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York was averted, however. Teamsters Local 553, which represents about 300 workers who refuel passenger and cargo jets at JFK, said that it reached a settlement with Allied Aviation Services and called off a walkout planned for Friday.

 

 

 

 

 

 

George Ridley, 4, left, rides on a suitcase as he and his father Chris Ridley make their way through the Nashville international Airport, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Nashville, Tenn. A record number of Americans are expected to travel over the 2024 Memorial Day holiday. (AP Photo/George Walker IV)

 

George Ridley, 4, left, rides on a suitcase as he and his father Chris Ridley make their way through the Nashville international Airport, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Nashville, Tenn. A record number of Americans are expected to travel over the 2024 Memorial Day holiday. (AP Photo/George Walker IV)

 

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“We are happy an agreement has been reached, a need for a strike averted, and we are hopeful that the deal will be ratified by our members,” said Demos Demopoulos, the secretary-treasurer of the local.

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Associated Press video journalist Melissa Perez Winder in Chicago and Associated Press radio reporter Shelley Adler in Washington contributed to this report.

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Texas health department appoints anti-abortion OB-GYN to maternal mortality committee

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Texas health department appoints anti-abortion OB-GYN to maternal mortality committee

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Texas’ health department has appointed an outspoken anti-abortion OB-GYN to a committee that reviews pregnancy-related deaths as doctors have been warning that the state’s restrictive abortion ban puts women’s lives at risk.

Dr. Ingrid Skop was among the new appointees to the Texas Maternal Morality and Morbidity Review Committee announced last week by the Texas Department of State Health Services. Her term starts June 1.

The committee, which compiles data on pregnancy-related deaths, makes recommendations to the Legislature on best practices and policy changes and is expected to assess the impact of abortion laws on maternal mortality.

Skop, who has worked as an OB-GYN for over three decades, is vice president and director of medical affairs for the Charlotte Lozier Institute, an anti-abortion research group. Skop will be the committee’s rural representative.

Skop, who has worked in San Antonio for most of her career, told the Houston Chronicle that she has “often cared for women traveling long distances from rural Texas maternity deserts, including women suffering complications from abortions.”

Texas has one of the most restrictive abortion bans in the U.S., and doctors have sought clarity on the state’s medical exemption, which allows an abortion to save a woman’s life or prevent the impairment of a major bodily function. Doctors have said the exemption is too vague, making it difficult to offer life-saving care for fear of repercussions. A doctor convicted of providing an illegal abortion in Texas can face up to 99 years in prison and a $100,000 fine and lose their medical license.

Skop has said medical associations are not giving doctors the proper guidance on the matter. She has also shared more controversial views, saying during a congressional hearing in 2021 that rape or incest victims as young as 9 or 10 could carry pregnancies to term.

Texas’ abortion ban has no exemption for cases of rape or incest.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, which says abortion is “inherently tied to maternal health,” said in a statement that members of the Texas committee should be “unbiased, free of conflicts of interest and focused on the appropriate standards of care.” The organization noted that bias against abortion has already led to “compromised” analyses, citing a research articles co-authored by Skop and others affiliated with the Charlotte Lozier Institute.

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Earlier this year a medical journal retracted studies supported by the Charlotte Lozier Institute claiming to show harms of the abortion pill mifepristone, citing conflicts of interests by the authors and flaws in their research. Two of the studies were cited in a pivotal Texas court ruling that has threatened access to the drug.

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Michigan farmworker diagnosed with bird flu, becoming 2nd US case tied to dairy cows

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Michigan farmworker diagnosed with bird flu, becoming 2nd US case tied to dairy cows

A Michigan dairy worker has been diagnosed with bird flu — the second human case associated with an outbreak in U.S. dairy cows.

The male worker had been in contact with cows at a farm with infected animals. He experienced mild eye symptoms and has recovered, U.S. and Michigan health officials said in announcing the case Wednesday.

A nasal swab from the person tested negative for the virus, but an eye swab tested Tuesday was positive for bird flu, “indicating an eye infection,” U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials said.

The worker developed a “gritty feeling” in his eye earlier this month but it was a “very mild case,” said Dr. Natasha Bagdasarian, Michigan’s chief medical executive. He was not treated with oseltamivir, a medication advised for treating bird flu, she said.

The risk to the public remains low, but farmworkers exposed to infected animals are at higher risk, health officials said. They said those workers should be offered protective equipment, especially for their eyes.

Health officials say they do not know if the Michigan farmworker was wearing protective eyewear, but an investigation is continuing.

In late March, a farmworker in Texas was diagnosed in what officials called the first known instance globally of a person catching this version of bird flu from a mammal. That patient reported only eye inflammation and recovered.

Since 2020, a bird flu virus has been spreading among more animal species — including dogs, cats, skunks, bears and even seals and porpoises — in scores of countries.

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The detection in U.S. livestock earlier this year was an unexpected twist that sparked questions about food safety and whether it would start spreading among humans.

That hasn’t happened, although there’s been a steady increase of reported infections in cows. As of Wednesday, the virus had been confirmed in 51 dairy herds in nine states, according to the U.S. Agriculture Department. Fifteen of the herds were in Michigan.

The CDC’s Dr. Nirav Shah said the case was “not unexpected” and it’s possible more infections could be diagnosed in people who work around infected cows.

U.S. officials said they had tested 40 people since the first cow cases were discovered in late March. Michigan has tested 35 of them, Bagdasarian told The Associated Press in an interview.

Shah praised Michigan officials for actively monitoring farmworkers. He said health officials there have been sending daily text messages to workers exposed to infected cows asking about possible symptoms, and that the effort helped officials catch this infection. He said no other workers had reported symptoms.

That’s encouraging news, said Michael Osterholm, a University of Minnesota epidemiologist who has studied bird flu for decades. There’s no sign to date that the virus is causing flu-like illness or that it is spreading among people.

“If we had four or five people seriously ill with respiratory illness, we would be picking that up,” he said.

The virus has been found in high levels in the raw milk of infected cows, but government officials say pasteurized products sold in grocery stores are safe because heat treatment has been confirmed to kill the virus.

The new case marks the third time a person in the United States has been diagnosed with what’s known as Type A H5N1 virus. In 2022, a prison inmate in a work program picked it up while killing infected birds at a poultry farm in Montrose County, Colorado. His only symptom was fatigue, and he recovered. That predated the virus’s appearance in cows.

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The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Science and Educational Media Group. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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