Ukraine, Sunak and travel issues, April 8th
More than 30 people were killed and over 100 wounded in a Russian rocket strike on a railway station packed with women, children and elderly evacuees in eastern Ukraine early on Friday, as civilians tried to evacuate to safer parts of the country, Ukrainian officials said.
Russia gave the most sombre assessment so far of its invasion of Ukraine, describing the “tragedy” of mounting troop losses and the economic hit from sanctions, as Ukrainians were evacuated from eastern cities before an anticipated major offensive.
British military intelligence said Russian forces were shelling cities in the east and south and had advanced further south from the city of Izium, which is under their control. Reuters could not immediately verify the report.
Capturing Mariupol is still the main focus of Russian troops and Russian battalions are blockading and bombarding the north-eastern city of Kharkiv, the Ukrainian military said.
The United States will send new weapon systems to Ukraine, after NATO foreign ministers agreed to accelerate arms deliveries. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg warned of a war that could last months or even years.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said the situation in Borodyanka, a town northwest of Kyiv, was “significantly more dreadful” than in Bucha, where Ukraine and the West say Russian troops killed civilians in what amounted to war crimes. He did not cite any evidence. Moscow denies targeting civilians. Video from Borodyanka showed search and rescue teams using heavy equipment to dig through the rubble of a building that collapsed. Hundreds of people were feared buried.
A social media video verified by Reuters and geolocated to an area west of Kyiv appears to show Ukrainian forces shooting and killing a captured and badly wounded Russian soldier.
Ukraine said it aimed to establish up to 10 humanitarian corridors to evacuate trapped civilians on Friday, but civilians trying to flee besieged Mariupol will have to use private vehicles. At least 160,000 civilians remain trapped in Mariupol without power and with little food or running water, the city mayor said, putting the civilian death toll in the city at about 5,000. Reuters was not able to verify the numbers.
UN general assembly vote
Meanwhile, the United Nations General Assembly voted to suspend Russia from the U.N. Human Rights Council and voiced grave concern at the continuing human rights and humanitarian crisis in Ukraine. Russia called the move illegal.
Ukraine and Russia are “constantly” holding peace talks online but the mood has been affected by events including the deaths of civilians in Bucha, Ukrainian negotiator Mykhailo Podolyak said on Friday.
The European Union on Friday formally adopted its fifth package of sanctions against Russia, including bans on the import of coal, wood, chemicals and other products. It will also prevent many Russian vessels and trucks accessing the EU and ban all transactions with four Russian banks, including VTB. Britain added Vladimir Putin’s daughters to its sanctions list on Friday, mirroring moves by the United States, in what it said was an effort to target the lifestyles of those in the Russian president’s inner circle.
Rishi Sunak, has defended his wife after revelations that she claims non-domiciled status, meaning she does not legally have to pay tax in the UK on her income earned abroad. The businesswoman Akshata Murty, estimated to be worth hundreds of millions of pounds, is an Indian citizen and is reported to hold a 0.91% stake in Infosys, an IT business founded by her father.
Her share is thought to be worth £11.5m a year, meaning she may have avoided up to £20m in UK tax by being non-domiciled in the UK. Murty has said she pays tax overseas.
Sunak told the Sun newspaper: “She loves her country like I love mine,” and said his wife had done nothing wrong in choosing a financial arrangement that legally exempted her from paying tax in Britain on foreign income.
The Easter holidays: delays and issues bedevil passengers
Airlines and cross-Channel services are braced for their busiest weekend since the start of the pandemic, with outbound and returning holidaymakers set to swell numbers at ports that are already struggling to cope with surging demand.
With all areas of the UK on Easter holidays as of today, passengers have been told to allow extra time to negotiate airport queues, as high rates of Covid infections worsen staff shortages at check-in and security.
Airports are redeploying office staff with security clearance to frontline roles where possible to help mitigate the chaotic scenes of recent days, particularly at Manchester airport. Manchester appeared to cope slightly better on Thursday, according to passenger reports on social media, but admitted it would be some time before its operations functioned normally. A spokesperson said passengers could still face waits in security of 60-90 minutes in “the next few months”. They advised arriving at the airport three hours before flight departure, and asked passengers to ensure they were fully prepared to comply with security rules on liquids and electrical items to minimise delay.
The Greater Manchester mayor, Andy Burnham, said this week it would take two months for the airport to bring in enough staff, and urged the government to help speed up the security clearance of new recruits. Police and transport staff from the city will be drafted in to help manage queues at the local authority-owned airport.
EasyJet, which has had to axe hundreds of flights this week, said it would be pre-emptively cancelling a further 50 flights a day over the weekend to minimise disruption. Large numbers of crew remain sick with Covid, affecting services at Gatwick, Luton and Manchester. However, the airline said it would still be operating more flights than at any point since 2019 – about 1,600 a day, 300 more than in August 2021.
A higher influx than normal of returning passengers, after last weekend’s outbound peak at the start of most UK schools holidays, could also test queues at immigration.
A Home Office spokesperson said passengers “may face a longer wait time than usual due to a high number of passengers and as we ensure all passengers are compliant with the security and immigration measures put in place to keep us safe”. They added: “Border Force’s number one priority is to maintain a secure border, and we will not compromise on this. We are working closely with all UK ports and airports to ensure passengers have the smoothest possible journey, and we will continue to
The Port of Dover has warned of a further intensely busy period after much of the town was gridlocked last weekend as drivers sought to avoid queues for cross-Channel departures. Last weekend’s leisure traffic, with 30,000 departing passengers, was three times the level of a year ago, the port said. Freight is also impacted, with some drivers waiting for two days to cross.
Meanwhile, tailbacks on the major roads to the Channel are expected to intensify, as Eurotunnel anticipates rising traffic in both directions and P&O Ferries services remain suspended. Passengers booked with P&O on the Dover-Calais route have been told they cannot travel this weekend, as the rival operator DFDS, which had been accommodating P&O customers, is now fully booked.
Operation Brock, the traffic management scheme to deal with post-Brexit congestion, remained in place on Thursday, closing a 23-mile stretch of the M20 towards Dover to park thousands of queueing lorries. High winds have also affected some services in the past week, and freight shipping was halted at Southampton port on Thursday.
P&O Ferries said it hoped to resume cross-Channel services at some point next week, when it hopes to have two of its four vessels based in Dover cleared to sail by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency. One ship, the Pride of Kent, was detained last week due to concerns about the readiness of its new replacement crew, after the mass sackings last month.
The AA said holiday traffic on UK roads would peak on Good Friday, and 27.6m car journeys were expected over the Easter weekend. (I’m amazed anyone can afford to go anywhere.)