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Ukrainian Pro-Russian Entrepreneur Latest Victim in String of Attacks

FILE - Russia-supporting Ukrainian entrepreneur Oleg Tsaryov, right, is shown in Russian-controlled Donetsk in an image taken from undated video. Tsaryov was shot and seriously wounded on Oct. 26, 2023.
FILE - Russia-supporting Ukrainian entrepreneur Oleg Tsaryov, right, is shown in Russian-controlled Donetsk in an image taken from undated video. Tsaryov was shot and seriously wounded on Oct. 26, 2023.

Ukrainian pro-Russian entrepreneur Oleg Tsaryov was shot twice and seriously wounded late Thursday in Russian-annexed Crimea where he lives, his family and Russian officials said Friday.

Russia's top investigative body said it had opened a criminal inquiry into the attempt on his life, the latest incident in a series of attacks since the start of the war on several prominent pro-Moscow figures.

Tsaryov was found unconscious and bleeding. A Russian-installed official in southern Ukraine, Vladimir Rogov, said he is in intensive care. The former Ukrainian lawmaker was lined up to lead a puppet administration in Kyiv if Russia succeeded in occupying Kyiv, Reuters reported, citing sources in Moscow.

The shooting of Tsaryov was a special operation conducted by the Security Service of Ukraine, or SBU, a source in the Ukrainian intelligence agency said Friday.

Tsaryov, a wealthy hotel businessman in Crimea, was previously a member of the Ukrainian parliament and then speaker of the parliament of "Novorossiya" — an entity formed after Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine broke away in 2014 and began fighting Ukrainian forces.

Ukraine, the United States and several other Western countries have imposed sanctions on him. He is listed as a "traitor to the motherland" by Myrotvorets, “Peacemaker” in Ukrainian, a vast unofficial database of people considered to be enemies of the country. The website lists personal information about Tsaryov, including an email address, a passport number and an address in Yalta.

Several pro-war Russian figures in the Myrotvorets database have been assassinated since the start of the war, including journalist Darya Dugina, war blogger Vladlen Tatarsky and former submarine commander Stanislav Rzhitsky.

Dugina and Tatarsky died in bombings, while Rzhitsky was shot while out on an early morning run.

No comment was immediately available from Ukrainian intelligence.

War commitment

Ukrainians remain deeply committed to keeping up their country’s defensive fight against Russia, despite some weariness with their country’s 20-month struggle against Russia’s invasion.

According to a recent Gallup survey, Ukrainians remain steadfast in their desire to win the war that Russia started in February 2022, but less so than a year ago.

Three in five (60%) Ukrainians interviewed in July and August said they want Ukraine to keep fighting until it wins, twice as many as those who want Ukraine to negotiate to end the war as soon as possible (31%). Ukrainians’ commitment is slightly muted from what it was in September 2022, when 70% of Ukrainians said they wanted their country to keep fighting, but the majority still staunchly support the war, the survey shows.

The fighting is expected to drag on into the winter as both sides remain deadlocked in fierce battles.

War-weary mothers, wives and children gathered on the streets of Ukrainian cities Friday, demanding an 18-month limit on mandatory military service.

Chanting “Demobilize the soldiers,” about 100 wives, mothers, children and relatives of Ukrainian soldiers attended a demonstration in the capital, Kyiv.

“I live in constant fear for his life," Valeriia Koliada, 35, said of her husband, who volunteered for the military.

“It’s nerve-wracking for me. He is tired as well,” she said. “We are a young family. I also want to have a child and sleep calm at night.”

Protesters gathered in at least six other Ukrainian cities.

Protesters hold placards during a demonstration in Kyiv, Ukraine, on Oct. 27, 2023, calling for legislation regulating the length of active military duty and the frequency of soldiers' rotation.
Protesters hold placards during a demonstration in Kyiv, Ukraine, on Oct. 27, 2023, calling for legislation regulating the length of active military duty and the frequency of soldiers' rotation.

Ukraine ordered a general mobilization of the male population between the ages of 25 and 60 when Russia launched its invasion on February 24, 2022. The vast majority joined as volunteers.

In Russia meanwhile, forces are experiencing morale problems as another winter campaign looms, the White House said.

“We have information that the Russian military has been actually executing soldiers who refuse to follow orders,” White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby told a press conference on Thursday.

“We also have information that Russian commanders are threatening to execute entire units if they seek to retreat from Ukrainian artillery fire,” Kirby said, calling the practice “barbaric.”

“Russia’s mobilized forces remain undertrained, underequipped and unprepared for combat, as was the case during their failed winter offensive last year,” Kirby said, adding that Russia appears to be employing “human wave” tactics.

“No proper equipment, no leadership, no resourcing, no support. It is unsurprising that Russian forces are suffering from poor morale,” Kirby said.

Russia’s Washington Embassy did not immediately reply to VOA’s email requesting comment.

Some of the recent casualties of Russian soldiers near the Ukrainian town of Avdiivka were on the orders of their own leaders, the White House said.

Ukrainian and Russian troops have been fighting for Avdiivka, a frontline town in the Donetsk region, since mid-October. The town had essentially been reduced to rubble because of Russian bombing, the Ukrainian military said.

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Friday that Russian forces have lost at least a brigade worth of troops trying to advance on Ukraine’s eastern town.

"The invaders made several attempts to surround Avdiivka, but each time our soldiers stopped them and threw them back, causing painful losses. In these cases, the enemy lost at least a brigade," Zelenskyy told British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak in a phone call, the president's office said in a statement.

Ukraine aid

Meanwhile, the United States said Thursday it will be providing Ukraine with $150 million in additional military assistance. The package will include artillery and small-arms ammunition, as well as anti-tank weapons.

To date, Washington has provided Kyiv with $43.9 billion in security aid since Russia invaded, meaning the United States is Ukraine’s biggest security donor. However, future U.S. aid for Ukraine may be in jeopardy due to rising Republican opposition.

President Joe Biden met with new House Speaker Mike Johnson and Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries at the White House on Thursday to discuss his request for nearly $106 billion lumping together funding for Israel and Ukraine, as well as for bolstering security at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Johnson, a staunch conservative allied with Donald Trump, said Congress is “not going to abandon” Ukraine. He said House Republicans would first bring a separate bill to provide $14.5 billion in aid to Israel, adding that they need more information about the Biden administration's Ukraine strategy.

“We can’t allow Vladimir Putin to prevail in Ukraine because I don't believe it would stop there,” Johnson said on Fox News' “Hannity,” referring to the Russian president. But he added, “We must stand with our important ally in the Middle East, and that's Israel.”

Germany has stepped up efforts to supply air defense systems to Ukraine ahead of the impending winter to help protect critical infrastructure there from Russian attacks. The defense ministry in Berlin said Friday it delivered a third IRIS-T SLM air defense system to Kyiv.

Some information in this report came from Reuters, Agence France-Presse and The Associated Press.

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