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Ukrainian flag raised in retaken city after Russian retreat

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Ukrainian flag raised in retaken city after Russian retreat

IZIUM, Ukraine (AP) — Hand on heart, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy watched his country’s flag rise Wednesday above the recaptured city of Izium, making a rare foray outside the capital that highlights Moscow’s embarrassing retreat from a Ukrainian counteroffensive.

Russian forces left the war-scarred city last week as Kyiv’s soldiers pressed a stunning advance that has reclaimed large swaths of territory in Ukraine’s northeastern Kharkiv region.

As Zelenskyy looked on and sang the national anthem, the Ukrainian flag was raised in front of the burned-out city hall. After almost six months under Russian occupation, Izium was left largely devastated, with apartment buildings blackened by fire and pockmarked by artillery strikes.

A gaping hole and piles of rubble stood where one building had collapsed.

“The view is very shocking, but it is not shocking for me,” Zelenskyy told journalists, “because we began to see the same pictures from Bucha, from the first de-occupied territories … the same destroyed buildings, killed people.”

Bucha is a small city on Kyiv’s outskirts from which Russian troops withdrew in March. In the aftermath, Ukrainian authorities discovered the bodies of hundreds of civilians dumped in streets, yards and mass graves. Many bore signs of torture.

Prosecutors said they so far have found six bodies with traces of torture in recently retaken Kharkiv region villages. The head of the Kharkiv prosecutor’s office, Oleksandr Filchakov, said bodies were found in Hrakove and Zaliznyche, villages around 60 kilometers (35 miles) southeast of Kharkiv city.

“We have a terrible picture of what the occupiers did. … Such cities as Balakliia, Izium, are standing in the same row as Bucha, Borodyanka, Irpin,” said Ukrainian Prosecutor General Andriy Kostin, listing places where the Ukrainians have alleged Russian forces committed atrocities.

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Local authorities have made similar claims in other areas Russia previously held, but it was not immediately possible to verify their information. They have not yet provided evidence of potential atrocities on the scale described in Bucha, where the number and conditions of civilian casualties prompted international demands to press war crimes charges against Russian officials.

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As he was returning from the front early Thursday, a passenger car collided with Zelenskyy’s vehicle in a motorcade in Kyiv, but he wasn’t seriously hurt, his spokesman said on Facebook. Spokesman Sergii Nikiforov said the driver of the other vehicle received first aid from Zelenskyy’s medical team and was taken by ambulance. Medics examined the president, who suffered no serious injuries in the accident, Nikiforov wrote. He did not specify what injuries Zelenskyy, 44, might have suffered.

Moscow’s recent rout in northeastern Ukraine was its largest military defeat since Russian troops withdrew from the Kyiv area months ago. On the northern outskirts of Izium, the remains of Russian tanks and vehicles lay shattered along a road.

As Zelenskyy visited, his forces pressed their counteroffensive, de-mined retaken ground and investigated possible war crimes. He said that “life comes back” as Ukrainian soldiers return to previously occupied villages.

The Ukrainian governor of the eastern Luhansk region, Serhiy Haidai, said Ukrainian soldiers were preparing to retake the area, which borders the Kharkiv region and was has been mostly under Russian control since July. Intense shelling of Ukrainian forces continued, he said.

Haidai told The Associated Press that Ukrainian troops were flying Ukrainian flags in the cities of Svatove and Starobilsk.

But in Kreminna, another city where Ukrainians raised their flag, Russians returned Wednesday and “tore down the (Ukrainian) flags and are demonstrably showing that they’re there,” Haidai said.

A Russia-allied separatist military leader confirmed the Ukrainian advance on the Luhansk region. Andrei Marochko, a local militia officer, said on Russian TV that the situation was “really difficult.”

“In some places, the contact line has come very close to the borders of the Luhansk People’s Republic,” Marochko said, referring to the independent state the separatists declared eight years ago.

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The counteroffensive has left more weapons in Ukrainian hands.

Russian forces likely left behind dozens of tanks, armored personnel carriers and other heavy weaponry as they fled Ukraine’s advance in the east, a Ukrainian think tank said Wednesday. The Center for Defense Strategies said one Russian unit fleeing the Izium area left behind more than three dozen T-80 tanks and about as many infantry fighting vehicles. Another unit left 47 tanks and 27 armored vehicles, it said.

The center said Russian forces tried to destroy some of the abandoned vehicles through artillery strikes as they fell back. Typically, armed forces ruin equipment left behind so their opponent can’t use it. However, the chaos of the Russian withdrawal apparently forced them to abandon untouched ammunition and weapons.

With the recent Ukrainian gains, a new front line has emerged along the Oskil River, which largely traces the Kharkiv region’s eastern edge, a Washington-based think tank, the Institute for the Study of War, said Wednesday.

“Russian troops are unlikely to be strong enough to prevent further Ukrainian advances along the entire Oskil River because they do not appear to be receiving reinforcements, and Ukrainian troops will likely be able to exploit this weakness to resume the counteroffensive across the Oskil if they choose,” the institute said.

In other areas, Russia continued its attacks, causing more casualties in a war that has dragged on for nearly seven months.

Two people were killed and three wounded after Russia attacked Mykolaiv with S-300 missiles overnight, regional governor Vitaliy Kim said.

The Nikopol area, across a river from the shutdown Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, was shelled three times during the night, with no injuries immediately reported, regional governor Valentyn Reznichenko said.

Fighting also raged in the eastern Donetsk region, where shelling killed five civilians and wounded 16. Together, Luhansk and Donetsk make up the Donbas, an industrial area that Moscow set out to capture following an unsuccessful attempt to invade Kyiv.

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Russian troops are targeting critical infrastructure. Eight cruise missiles aimed at water equipment hit Zelenskyy’s hometown of Kryvyi Rih, a city on the Inhulets River 150 kms (93 miles) southwest of Dnipro, the deputy head of the president’s office, Kyrylo Tymoshenko, reported on his Telegram channel. Zelenskyy said the strikes appeared to be an attempt to flood the city and that a dam on a reservoir was hit. Video posted online showed elevated water levels on the Inhulets and flooded city streets, and evacuations of residents were suggested.

U.S. President Joe Biden observed Wednesday that Ukrainian forces have made “significant progress” in recent days but added, “I think it’s going to be a long haul.”

While criticism of the invasion seems to be increasing in Russia, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said after a phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin, “Unfortunately, I cannot tell you that the realization has grown over there by now that this was a mistake to start this war.”

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Wednesday that he had spoken with Putin about exporting Russian fertilizer through Ukraine’s Black Sea ports to address a famine threat. The U.N. chief said at a news conference in New York that high prices for fertilizer have reduced the planting of crops, making it critical to increase Russian exports of ammonia — a key fertilizer ingredient — by shipping it through Black Sea ports now used to transport grain from Ukraine.

Western military and economic support has allowed Ukraine to keep fighting since Russia invaded on Feb. 24, and the Ukrainian government received more assistance Wednesday.

An international group of creditors, including the U.S., finalized a deal to suspend Ukraine’s debt service through the end of 2023, helping the country ease liquidity pressures and increase social, health and economic spending.

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Arhirova reported from Kyiv. Associated Press journalist Jon Gambrell in Kyiv contributed.

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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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