Ukraine And Russian ‘Rebels’ Conduct Large Prisoner Swap

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF TIME)

 

(HORLIVKA, Ukraine) — Ukrainian authorities and Russian-backed separatist rebels on Wednesday conducted the biggest exchange of prisoners since the start of an armed conflict in the country’s east and a sign of progress in the implementation of a 2015 peace deal.

Rebels from the self-proclaimed separatist republics in the Luhansk and Donetsk regions handed over 74 captives, while Ukraine‘s government delivered 233. Some had been held for more than a year.

Larisa Sargan, a spokeswoman for the Ukrainian prosecutor general’s office, said on Facebook that one of the 74 prisoners released by the separatists indicated she would stay in Donetsk.

Carrying their belonging, the prisoners were turned exchanged in the town of Horlivka and the village of Zaitseve, in an area dividing the separatist regions and Ukraine. One held a cat.

“I’m out of hell. I have survived,” said Yevhen Chudentsov, who served with one of Ukraine’s volunteer battalions in the east and was taken prisoner in February 2015.

Chudentsov said he faced threats and beatings while in rebel custody, and his front teeth were knocked out. He was initially sentenced to capital punishment, which was later changed to 30 years in prison. He said after his release in Horlivka that he would join the Ukrainian military again.

The exchange was supervised by observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, a trans-Atlantic security and rights group that has deployed monitors to eastern Ukraine.

The OSCE welcomed the swap and urged the two sides to build on the momentum from it.

“Allowing such a significant number of people, who have been held on both sides, to return home before the New Year and Orthodox Christmas is a very welcome development,” said Austrian Foreign Minister Karin Kneissl, the OSCE chairman. “Today’s exchange is not only a humanitarian act but also a helpful step in confidence-building.”

Ukraine was supposed to release 306 people, but dozens chose to stay in Ukraine or had been freed earlier, said Viktor Medvedchuk, who monitored the exchange on the Ukrainian side.

Many of the captives were not combatants. Some were activists and bloggers who were charged with spying or treason.

Anatoly Slobodyanik, one of the prisoners traded by Ukraine, said he didn’t want to go to the rebel side and would return to his home town of Odessa.

“I’m not guilty of anything and I don’t want to go to the other side,” he said.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko praised the Ukrainian prisoners held by the rebels for their endurance.

“I’m grateful to all those who remained loyal to Ukraine in those unbearable conditions,” Poroshenko said while greeting the free captives. “They have shown their adherence to the principles of freedom and independence.”

The Ukrainian leader also hailed German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron for helping organize the exchange.

Merkel and Macron welcomed the swap, saying in a joint statement that they “encourage the parties to the conflict also to enable the exchange of the remaining prisoners, grant the International Committee of the Red Cross full access and support the ICRC’s search for missing people.”

The simmering conflict between the separatists and government troops in eastern Ukraine has killed more than 10,000 people since 2014.

The 2015 deal brokered by France and Germany and signed in Minsk, the Belarusian capital, envisioned a prisoner exchange, but the two sides argued continuously over lists of captives and only a few dozen had been traded prior to Wednesday. Separatist leaders and a Ukrainian government representative finally agreed to the exchange last week, with the head of the Russian Orthodox Church acting as mediator.

Merkel and Macron emphasized that the exchange and a recommitment to a comprehensive cease-fire “should also serve to build up confidence between the parties to the conflict, also with a view to the full implementation of the Minsk agreements.”

Top EU court rejects Hungary and Slovakia migrant relocation case

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

 

Top EU court rejects Hungary and Slovakia migrant relocation case

A man climbs through a window as migrants struggle to get on a train in Hungary in September 2015.

(CNN)The European Court of Justice (ECJ) has rejected a challenge brought by Hungary and Slovakia against the European Union’s power to force member states to admit asylum seekers.

The two nations opposed a 2015 decision by the EU’s top policy body, at the height of the Mediterranean migration crisis, to assist Italy and Greece by making other EU states admit 120,000 people.
“That mechanism actually contributes to enabling Greece and Italy to deal with the impact of the 2015 migration crisis and is proportionate,” a news release on the ECJ’s ruling said.
The court “dismisses in their entirety the actions brought by Slovakia and Hungary,” it said.
Hungary and Slovakia, along with the Czech Republic and Romania, had opposed the 2015 decision, taken by the Council of the European Union. The formerly Communist nations in eastern Europe claimed they would struggle to absorb mainly Muslim refugees from Syria.
In their case before the ECJ, Hungary and Slovakia argued that there had been procedural flaws and that the decision was neither a suitable response to the migrant crisis nor necessary to deal with it.
While Poland backed their case before the court, Belgium, Germany, Greece, France, Italy, Luxembourg, Sweden and the European Commission argued in support of the council, the ECJ press release said.
In its ruling Wednesday, the court rejected all the arguments brought by Hungary and Slovakia.
The measures were legally taken by the EU Council and did not require ratification by individual governments, its news release said. “Its adoption was not subject to the requirements relating to the participation of national Parliaments and to the public nature of the deliberations and vote in the Council.”
It also noted that retrospective assessments of how effective the decision had been could not be used to question its legality.
The court “observes in particular that the small number of relocations so far carried out under the contested decision can be explained by a series of factors that the Council could not have foreseen at the time when the decision was adopted, including, in particular, the lack of cooperation on the part of certain Member States,” it said.
The European Commission warned EU member states earlier this year that there were “no more excuses” for not delivering on promises to take on refugees.
According to the International Organization for Migration, as of August 30 this year, only 27,412 people had been relocated to 24 countries, compared with the 120,000 provided for by the scheme. Of those, 19,200 were transferred from Greece and 8,212 from Italy. Germany, France and the Netherlands have taken in the highest number.
Under the emergency scheme, 120,000 relocation’s were due to take place over two years, ending in September 2017.

The History Of Man Is The History Of War: Battle Of Thermopylae 267 A.D.

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF ‘REALM OF HISTORY’)

The Other Ancient ‘Battle Of Thermopylae’ Pitted The Greeks Against The Invading Goths

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The Battle of Thermopylae in 480 BC has long thrived in the realm of pop culture with supposedly 300 chiseled Spartans defending against a horde of barbarous Persian troops. The reality was obviously different from this nigh idealistic presentation on the Western side, with the Greeks actually having around 7,000 men (according to modern estimates) – who nevertheless still managed to hold off a significantly larger Persian army (as in an ‘organized army’, not ‘horde’), thus securing a strategic victory by incurring a tactical loss. But as it turns out, there was another Battle of Thermopylae about 750 years later, and that time around it brought forth the Greek defenders (under Roman rule) against the rampaging Goths (an East Germanic people from late antiquity). The seemingly inconspicuous episode of history (in 250-260 AD) was originally documented in an ancient Greek text written in the 3rd century AD by an Athenian writer named Dexippus. But the text fragments the historians came across (and analysed) are dated from the medieval 11th century AD, and thus thought to be the copies made of the far older and original text.

In any case, the researchers made of spectral imaging to assess these fragments in question, thus allowing them to be comprehensible for the most part. And one of these fragments was successfully translated by a duo of lecturers – Christopher Mallan of Oxford University, and Caillan Davenport of the University of Queensland. Like in the case of the poignant letter written by a Roman legionary 1,800-years ago, this read is also quite engaging with talks of battle columns of the ‘barbarian’ Goths and Greek troops rushing forth to their defensive positions at the famed narrow pass of Thermopylae.

One of the mentioned incidents starts off with an Goth assault on the city of Thessalonica. As Dexippus wrote –

Making an assault upon the city of the Thessalonians, they tried to capture it as a close-packed band. Those on the walls defended themselves valiantly, warding off the battle columns with the assistance of many hands.

Suffice it to say that the assault was probably unsuccessful on the part of the Goths. Hence they made their move further south towards Athens. Dexippus gave his ‘reasoning’ behind such a desperate maneuver –

…envisioning the gold and silver votive offerings and the many processional goods in the Greek sanctuaries, for they learned that the region was exceedingly wealthy in this respect.

But learning of the enemy movements, the rag-tag Greeks (with a presumably sizable militia) arrayed themselves along the narrow pass of Thermopylae. Dexippus wrote –

Some [of the Greeks] carried small spears, others axes, others wooden pikes overlaid with bronze and with iron tips, or whatever each man could arm himself with. When they came together, they completely fortified the perimeter wall and devoted themselves to its protection with haste.

Interestingly enough, Dexippus also mentions the name of the Greek commander – a general named Marianus. This particular figure supposedly gave a rousing speech to his troops harking back to the past exploits of their ancestors at the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 BC.

O Greeks, the occasion of our preservation for which you are assembled and the land in which you have been deployed are both truly fitting to evoke the memory of virtuous deeds. For your ancestors, fighting in this place in former times, did not let Greece down and deprive it of its free state. In previous attacks, you seemed terrifying to the enemies. On account of these things, future events do not appear to me not without hope…

But like any literary cliffhanger, the fragment ends rather unceremoniously, and thus historians are still not sure about the outcome of the seemingly momentous battle. And since we are talking about a literary piece, the speech could have been an invention of the writer himself. To that end, there are other fragments written by Dexippus and the first of them was translated in German in 2014, by Gunther Martin and Jana Grusková, researchers at the University of Bern and Comenius University in Bratislava, respectively. There are also complementary English articles published by the same researchers regarding the fragments – and the overarching narrative seems to suggest that the Roman Emperor Decius (who lived from 201-251 AD) tried to repel the Goths from Greece. But he was probably unsuccessful in his endeavor, by losing both men and territories to the invading enemy.

And intriguingly, this Decius character also supposedly made a morale-boosting speech; but again it could have been invented by Dexippus himself –

Men, I wish the military force and all the provincial territory were in a good condition and not humiliated by the enemy. But since the incidents of human life bring manifold sufferings…it is the duty of prudent men to accept what happens and not to lose their spirit, nor become weak.

Lastly, it should be noted that historically there was possibly yet another ancient ‘Battle of Thermopylae’ in 267 AD when the Heruli (another East Germanic tribe) successfully invaded the Balkans. But a major part of their ‘mixed-band ‘forces (comprising fellow Goths and possibly allied Gepids) was annihilated at the Battle of Naissus two years later by the Eastern Roman troops commanded by Claudius II, who was later given the epithet of ‘Gothicus’.

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Spectral imaging used for deciphering the fragment. Credit: Vienna, Austrian National Library.