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    Pentagon: Russia Has About 20,000 Troops in Ukraine

    The Pentagon estimates there are now about 20,000 Russian troops in Ukraine, as East-West tensions simmer over Russia's intervention in Ukraine's Crimean peninsula.

    Rear Admiral John Kirby says Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel spoke with Ukrainian Defense Minister Ihor Tenyuh on Friday and discussed humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.

    Meanwhile, the State Department also confirmed Secretary of State John Kerry spoke Friday over the phone with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, as the Obama administration moves to impose sanctions on Russia.

    The White House says President Barack Obama told Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin Thursday that Moscow's actions in Ukraine violate that country's sovereignty.

    It was the first known direct contact between the leaders since Russian military personnel appeared in the Ukrainian territory last Saturday.



    A statement Thursday said Mr. Obama proposed several diplomatic solutions to the standoff, which it said address "the interests of Russia, the people of Ukraine and the international community."

    Mr. Obama has signed an executive order authorizing sanctions on those found to have stolen assets of the Ukrainian people or to have violated Ukraine's territorial integrity. The order blocks the transfer from the United States of assets belonging to anyone found to have undermined democratic institutions in Ukraine. It includes visa restrictions, but does not name targeted individuals.

    The president said a March 16 referendum decreed by pro-Russian Crimean lawmakers on the future of the peninsula violates international law and Ukraine's constitution. He said any discussion about Ukraine's future "must include the legitimate government of Ukraine."

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    German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibiti
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    Hamada Elsaram
    February 05, 2016 4:30 PM
    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
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