U.S. records 33 new measles cases, raising year’s total to 1,077

FILE PHOTO: A vial of the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine at the International Community Health Services clinic in Seattle, Washington, U.S., March 20, 2019. REUTERS/Lindsey Wasson

(Reuters) – The United States recorded 33 new measles cases last week, bringing the number of confirmed cases this year to 1,077 in the worst outbreak of the virus since 1992, federal health officials said on Monday.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the cases of the highly contagious and sometimes deadly disease rose 3% in the week ended June 20 from the prior week. The 2019 outbreak, which has spread to 28 states, is the worst since 1992, when 2,126 cases were recorded.

Health experts say the virus has spread among school-age children whose parents declined to give them the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine, which confers immunity to the disease. A vocal fringe of U.S. parents, some in New York’s ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities, cite concerns that the vaccine may cause autism, despite scientific studies that have debunked such claims.

The disease has mostly affected children who have not received the vaccine.

Measles was declared eliminated in the United States in 2000, meaning there was no continuous transmission of the disease for a year. Still, cases of the virus occur and spread via travelers coming from countries where measles is common.

CDC officials have warned that the country risks losing its measles elimination status if the ongoing outbreak, which began in October 2018 in New York, continues until October 2019.

The outbreak has escalated since 82 people in 2018 and more than 40 people in 2019 brought measles to the United States from other countries, most frequently Ukraine, Israel and the Philippines, federal officials said.

(Reporting by Gabriella Borter in New York and Ankur Banerjee in Bengaluru; Editing by Shailesh Kuber and Susan Thomas)

Russians, Ukrainian to face murder charges over downing of Flight MH17

FILE PHOTO: A Malaysian air crash investigator inspects the crash site of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17, near the village of Hrabove (Grabovo) in Donetsk region, Ukraine, July 22, 2014. REUTERS/Maxim Zmeyev/File Photo

By Toby Sterling and Anthony Deutsch

NIEUWEGEIN, Netherlands (Reuters) – Three Russians and a Ukrainian will face murder charges for the deaths of 298 people aboard Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 that was shot down over eastern Ukraine in 2014, the international investigative team said on Wednesday.

The suspects are likely to be tried in absentia in proceedings set to start in the Netherlands next March. Dutch authorities said Russia has not cooperated with the inquiry and is not expected to surrender defendants.

“These suspects are seen to have played an important role in the death of 298 innocent civilians,” Dutch Chief Prosecutor Fred Westerbeke said.

“Although they did not push the button themselves, we suspect them of close cooperation to get the (missile launcher) where it was, with the aim to shoot down an airplane.”

The Russian Foreign Ministry denied that it had not cooperated while saying on Wednesday the investigation was intended to damage Moscow’s reputation.

“Once again, absolutely groundless accusations are being made against the Russian side, aimed at discrediting the Russian Federation in the eyes of the international community,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Dutch Justice Minister Ferdinand Grapperhaus said in a letter to parliament the Netherlands had taken unspecified “diplomatic steps” against Moscow for failing to fully comply with legal requests or providing incorrect information.

MH17 was shot out of the sky on July 17, 2014 over territory held by pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine as it was flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur. Everyone aboard died.

The Dutch-led international team tasked with assigning criminal responsibility for the plane’s destruction named the four suspects as Russians Sergey Dubinsky, Oleg Pulatov and Igor Girkin, as well as Ukrainian Leonid Kharchenko. It said international arrest warrants for the four had been issued.

Girkin, 48, a vocal and battle-hardened Russian nationalist, is believed to live in Moscow where he makes regular public appearances. He is a commentator on Russian and foreign affairs via his own website and YouTube channel.

“The rebels did not shoot down the Boeing,” Girkin told Reuters on Wednesday without elaborating.

Ukrainian authorities said they would try to detain Kharchenko, the suspect believed to be on their territory.

“The Russian Federation must now cooperate fully with the prosecution and provide any assistance it requests,” British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said. There were 10 Britons on the flight.

RUSSIAN MISSILE

Most of the passengers were Dutch. The joint investigation team formed by Australia, Belgium, Malaysia, the Netherlands and Ukraine found that the plane was downed by a Russian missile.

Last year Russian President Vladimir Putin called MH17’s downing a “terrible tragedy” but said Moscow was not to blame and there are other explanations for what happened.

Asked if she expected the suspects to attend the trial, Silene Fredriksz, whose son Bryce was on the plane, said: “No, I don’t think so. But I don’t care. I just want the truth, and this is the truth.”

The investigation team said Girkin was a former Russian FSB security service colonel who served as minister of defense of the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) in eastern Ukraine in the summer of 2014.

It said Dubinsky was head of the military intelligence agency of DNR, while Pulatov headed a second department of the agency. Kharchenko was head of a reconnaissance battalion for the second department, it said.

Prosecutors have said the missile system that brought down the airliner came from the Russian 53rd Anti-Aircraft Brigade, based in the western Russian city of Kursk.

(Additional reporting by Bart Meijer in Amsterdam; Christian Lowe, Anastasia Teterevleva and Maria Vasilyeva in Moscow; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

Investigators to identify MH17 suspects: Dutch broadcasters

FILE PHOTO: A Malaysian air crash investigator inspects the crash site of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17, near the village of Hrabove (Grabovo) in Donetsk region, Ukraine, July 22, 2014. REUTERS/Maxim Zmeyev/File Photo

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) – Investigators will next week announce criminal proceedings against suspects in the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 five years ago, allegedly by pro-Russian separatists, two leading Dutch broadcasters reported on Friday.

MH17 was shot out of the sky over territory held by separatists in eastern Ukraine as it flew from Amsterdam to the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur, killing all 298 people on board.

About two-thirds of the passengers were Dutch.

Dutch prosecutors said on Friday a multi-national investigation team would present its latest findings to media and families on June 19. A spokesman for the national Dutch prosecution service declined to specify what would be announced.

Citing anonymous sources, broadcaster RTL reported that the public prosecution service had decided to launch a case against several MH17 suspects.

National public broadcaster NOS also reported that criminal proceedings will be announced against individual suspects.

No suspects were named in the reports.

The Joint Investigation Team, which seeks to try the suspects under Dutch law, has said the missile system came from the Russian 53rd Anti-Aircraft Brigade, based in the western Russian city of Kursk.

Investigators had said their next step would be to identify individual culprits and to attempt to put them on trial.

Dutch officials have said Russia has refused to cooperate.

Russia is not expected to surrender any potential suspects who may be on its territory and authorities have said individuals could be tried in absentia.

The Joint Investigation Team was formed in 2014 by Australia, Belgium, Malaysia, the Netherlands and Ukraine to investigate collaboratively.

The Netherlands and Australia, which lost 38 people, hold Russia legally responsible. Moscow denies all involvement and maintains that it does not support, financially or with equipment, pro-Russian rebels fighting Ukrainian government troops.

(Reporting by Anthony Deutsch; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)

Turkey breaks up smuggling ring that brought thousands of migrants to Europe

FILE PHOTO: Migrants in a dinghy paddle their way on the Mediterranean Sea to attempt crossing to the Greek island of Kos, as a Turkish Coast Guard ship patrols off the shores off Bodrum, Turkey, September 19, 2015. REUTERS/Umit Bektas/File Photo

ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkish police said on Wednesday they had detained the leaders of what they called Europe’s biggest people-smuggling ring, which helped thousands of irregular immigrants reach Europe from the Middle East.

Twenty people, including ringleader Akbar Omar Tawfeeq, were detained in operations in four Turkish provinces after a year-long investigation into the organization, Istanbul police said.

The network mainly helped Afghan, Iraqi and Syrian nationals cross into European countries from Turkey by land and sea, police said, adding that the group had also worked with other smuggling groups in Ukraine, Italy and Greece.

As part of the operations, police detained 569 irregular immigrants and seized six vehicles and six boats, they said in a statement. The smuggling group, whose leaders are mainly from northern Iraq, earned an average 2 million euros annually.

Video footage released by police showed special operations police breaking down the door of the suspects’ residence and seizing phones, drugs and digital material.

More than a million migrants and refugees, many fleeing conflict and poverty in the Middle East and Africa, arrived in the European Union in 2015. Turkey was one of the main launch points for the dangerous sea leg of their journey, on which thousands died.

Numbers declined sharply in the following year when Turkey, in exchange for 3 billion euros in European Union aid and a promise to ease visa restrictions for Turks, began to exert more control on migrants trying to cross to Europe via its territory.

Overall Mediterranean arrivals to the European Union, including migrants making the longer and more perilous crossing from north Africa to Italy, stood at 172,301 in 2017, down from 362,753 in 2016 and 1,015,078 in 2015, according to U.N. data.

(Reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen; Editing by Dominic Evans and Frances Kerry)

WHO issues warning as measles infects 34,000 in Europe this year

FILE PHOTO: A vial of the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine is pictured at the International Community Health Services clinic in Seattle, Washington, U.S., March 20, 2019. REUTERS/Lindsey Wasson/File Photo

By Kate Kelland

LONDON (Reuters) – More than 34,000 people across Europe caught measles in the first two months of 2019, with the vast majority of cases in Ukraine, the World Health Organization said on Tuesday as it urged authorities to ensure vulnerable people get vaccinated.

The death toll among 34,300 cases reported across 42 countries in the WHO’s European region reached 13, with the virus killing people in Ukraine – which is suffering a measles epidemic – as well as in Romania and Albania. The risk is that outbreaks may continue to spread, the WHO warned.

“If outbreak response is not timely and comprehensive, the virus will find its way into more pockets of vulnerable individuals and potentially spread to additional countries within and beyond the region,” it said in a statement.

“Every opportunity should be used to vaccinate susceptible children, adolescents and adults.”

Measles is a highly contagious disease that can kill and cause blindness, deafness or brain damage. It can be prevented with two doses of an effective vaccine, but – in part due to pockets of unvaccinated people – it is currently spreading in outbreaks in many parts of the world including in the United States, the Philippines and Thailand.

In Europe, the majority of measles cases so far in 2019 are in Ukraine, which saw more than 25,000 people infected in the first two months of the year.

There is no specific antiviral treatment for measles, and vaccination is the only way to prevent it, the WHO said. Most cases are in unvaccinated or under-vaccinated people.

It added that even though the region had its highest ever estimated coverage for the second dose of measles vaccination in 2017 – at around 90 percent – some countries have had problems, including declining or stagnating immunization coverage in some cases, low coverage in some marginalized groups, and immunity gaps in older populations.

The WHO called on national health authorities across the region to focus efforts on ensuring all population groups have access to vaccines.

“The impact on public health will persist until the ongoing outbreaks are controlled,” it said, adding that health authorities should “identify who has been missed in the past and reach them with the vaccines they need.”

A report by the United Nations children’s fund UNICEF last month found that more than 20 million children a year missed out on measles vaccines across the world in the past eight years, laying the ground for dangerous outbreaks.

(Reporting by Kate Kelland; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

Ukraine says it captured Russian military intelligence hit squad

Head of the Security Service of Ukraine Vasyl Hrytsak (SBU) speaks during a news conference, dedicated to the alleged detention of members of a sabotage-reconnaissance group, who according to SBU were sent by Russian intelligence agencies, in Kiev, Ukraine April 17, 2019. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko

KIEV (Reuters) – Ukraine’s security service SBU said on Wednesday it had captured a Russian military intelligence hit squad responsible for the attempted murder of a Ukrainian military spy in the run-up to a presidential election on Sunday.

The issue of how to deal with Russia, which annexed Crimea in 2014 and backs pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine, is prominent ahead of the vote, with incumbent Petro Poroshenko casting himself as the commander-in-chief Ukraine needs to defend the country.

Vasyl Hrytsak, the head of the SBU, the main intelligence agency, told a news conference in Kiev that seven members of the Russian group had been detained and charged and that an eighth person had been detained on Wednesday morning.

Two of the group’s members were Russian citizens, said Anatoly Matios, Ukraine’s military prosecutor, describing them as staff officers of Russia’s GRU military intelligence agency. The other six were Ukrainians.

There was no immediate reaction from Russia’s GRU.

The SBU has reported before that it captured groups belonging to Russian special agencies.

“Those detained were involved in the attempted murder of an employee of the Ukrainian defense ministry’s intelligence service…in Kiev in April,” said Matios, adding the group had planted a bomb beneath the man’s car which had gone off prematurely, badly injuring one of the accused.

The SBU released a video of the same incident which showed a man placing the bomb under a car before a big explosion. The video showed a man lying in a hospital bed with part of his right arm missing saying he was Russian and born in Moscow.

(Reporting by Andrew Osborn; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

Russia moves to mask its soldiers’ digital trail

FILE PHOTO: A Russian Army member, dressed in a historical uniform, takes a selfie as he attends a rehearsal for a military parade to mark the anniversary of a historical parade in 1941, when Soviet soldiers marched towards the front lines at the Red Square in Moscow, Russia November 5, 2017. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov/File Photo

By Tom Balmforth

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia is moving to ban its soldiers from sharing information on the internet, a step that follows the use of social media posts by investigative journalists to shine a light on Moscow’s clandestine role in foreign conflicts.

Draft legislation proposes banning servicemen and reserve troops from posting anything online that would allow outsiders to glean their whereabouts or role in the military.

The bill, which was approved by lawmakers in its second of three readings in parliament on Tuesday, says the ban would cover photographs, video, geolocation data or other information.

It would also prohibit soldiers sharing information about other servicemen or the relatives of servicemen, while those who break the ban would be subject to disciplinary measures.

“Information shared by soldiers on the internet or mass media is used…in certain cases to form a biased assessment of Russia’s state policy,” the bill’s explanatory note said.

The move comes with online investigative journalism sites drawing on open source data to probe Russia’s alleged role in clandestine operations abroad.

Investigative site Bellingcat used social network posts extensively in reports concluding that Russian soldiers were involved in the downing of passenger flight MH17 over Ukraine in 2014.

A Dutch criminal investigation concluded last year that the plane was shot down with a surface-to-air missile belonging to the 53rd brigade of the Russian army. Moscow denies involvement.

“Social networks were used in many other investigations about the war in Ukraine and the war in Syria, for instance when fellow servicemen or relatives spoke about deceased soldiers,” said Roman Dobrokhotov, chief editor of investigative site The Insider.

Reuters has used social network posts to identify Russians fighting in eastern Ukraine at a time when Moscow denied its soldiers were fighting there.

If passed, the legislation will formally institute defense ministry recommendations that pro-Kremlin newspaper Izvestia says were issued to soldiers in 2017.

The lower house still has to vote on the bill once more before it is sent to the upper house for a vote and is then signed into law by President Vladimir Putin.

(Editing by Peter Graff)

Russia extends detention of jailed Ukrainian sailors: agencies

Detained crew members of Ukrainian naval ships, which were seized by Russia's FSB security service in November 2018, stand inside a defendants' cage as they attend a court hearing in Moscow, Russia January 15, 2019. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

MOSCOW (Reuters) – A court in Moscow on Tuesday ordered eight Ukrainian sailors seized by Russia last year off the coast of Crimea to be kept in pre-trial detention until April 24, Russian news agencies reported.

Russia seized 24 men and three Ukrainian navy vessels on Nov. 25 near Russian-annexed Crimea. Moscow accuses them of illegally entering Russian waters, something Kiev denies.

The court hearings were closed to the public, but the Ukrainians were shown on state television in the custody of armed security officers in masks.

It was not immediately clear if any others among the 24 would appear in court.

The United States and European Union have called on Russia to release the men, but the Kremlin has said they must be put on trial.

No date has been set for a trial.

Moscow could hand over the men as part of a prisoner swap deal with Ukraine later this year, a Russian diplomatic source was quoted as saying last week by the pro-Kremlin Izvestia newspaper.

(Reporting by Tom Balmforth and Andrey Ostroukh, Editing by William Maclean)

U.S. authorities charge several people in SEC hacking scheme

FILE PHOTO: The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission logo adorns an office door at the SEC headquarters in Washington, June 24, 2011. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/File Photo

(Reuters) – U.S. authorities on Tuesday charged several individuals and companies in a scheme to trade on information in nonpublic corporate press releases by hacking into a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission database.

In a filing with the U.S. District Court in Newark, New Jersey, the SEC said individuals in the United States, Russia and Ukraine reaped more than $4.1 million in illegal gains by trading on nonpublic filings from its Edgar database, including approximately 157 corporate earnings announcements.

According to the SEC, some of the defendants kicked back some of their trading profits to Oleksandr Ieremenko, a Ukrainian hacker who along with others infiltrated Edgar between May 2016 and October 2016 to obtain thousands of “test filings,” including some containing earnings results.

Ieremenko was charged in 2015 in a similar scheme involving hacking into databases of corporate press release distributors.

It was not immediately clear whether the latest scheme is the subject of a law enforcement action being announced later Tuesday by the SEC and the U.S. Department of Justice. Neither agency immediately responded to requests for comment.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)

Caught in Russia-Ukraine storm: a cargo ship and tonnes of grain

Ships are seen in the Azov Sea port of Berdyansk, Ukraine November 30, 2018. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich

By Polina Ivanova

BERDYANSK, Ukraine (Reuters) – When the Island Bay cargo ship arrived from Beirut at the Kerch Strait, gateway to the Azov Sea, it sailed into a perfect storm of geopolitics and bad weather.

The following day, Russia opened fire on three Ukrainian naval ships, impounded them and detained their sailors, some of them wounded. It then blocked the strait by putting a tanker underneath a new bridge it has built linking the Russian mainland to the Crimean peninsula it annexed from Ukraine in 2014.

While the world digested the implications of the Nov. 25 incident, the most explosive clash in recent years, Russia said it had reopened the channel to the Azov Sea, which is shared by Russia and Ukraine.

But Island Bay remained at anchor outside the strait, lashed by gale force winds and sleet, its hull icing over while cargo ships amassed on either side.

On Monday, a week on, the captain reported seeing 20 vessels awaiting clearance to cross. Refinitiv data that day also showed 20 Ukraine-bound vessels held up at the strait since Nov. 25, with two others allowed through.

Meanwhile, Island Bay’s cargo of 5,500 tonnes of wheat, destined for flour mills in Libya, waited in the Ukrainian port of Berdyansk.

The saga of the ship is a window on the leverage Moscow has over Ukraine’s Azov seaboard, affecting dock workers, port operators, brokers and farmers who depend on the route.

Russia, whose coast guards began inspecting traffic in the Kerch Strait eight months ago, blamed inclement weather for the delay. But on Sunday, when the skies cleared, just a handful of ships passed through; by Monday evening, the Island Bay’s captain’s frustration was beginning to show.

“It is acceptable weather for transit. Coast guards have own opinion,” his log, seen by Reuters, said. That day, he reported seeing just two ships cross into the Azov Sea.

Ukraine says the hiatus is one of many since the Russian spot-checks began in May, when Russia opened the Kerch bridge, interrupting exports of grain and steel and imports of coal. Moscow denies any disruption.

THE STEVEDORES

In Berdyansk’s port, where icy winds had recently ripped off the roof of a nearby shed, staff of stevedore company Ascet Shipping were reading the daily reports from the Island Bay with growing concern.

Ascet loads almost a million tonnes of Ukrainian grain a year onto cargo ships in Berdyansk and was waiting to load the Island Bay; its size means each day of waiting time costs around $2,000-$2,500, Ascet’s chief executive, Denis Rusin, said.

This has made Berdyansk an unpopular port in recent months.

“Ship owners do not want to go to Berdyansk,” said Rusin, whose clients include U.S. firm Cargill [CARG.UL], one of the world’s largest dry bulk and tank shipping companies. “Buyers are refusing to bet on passage.”

Since Russia and Ukraine clashed in the strait, Ukraine has introduced martial law in 10 regions, including the Azov Sea coast – highlighting the risks of doing business with Berdyansk.

“For us this was the worst week in recent years,” Rusin said. “Clients have stopped considering the possibility of signing contracts for delivery in January, let alone February or spring,” he said.

Cranes and ships are seen in the Azov Sea port of Berdyansk, Ukraine November 30, 2018. Picture taken November 30, 2018. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich

Cranes and ships are seen in the Azov Sea port of Berdyansk, Ukraine November 30, 2018. Picture taken November 30, 2018. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich

THE PORT

Some Ukrainian politicians have accused Moscow of trying to strangle Ukraine’s Azov Sea ports in preparation for an invasion from the east, following on from Crimea’s annexation and the subsequent breakaway of Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine.

Moscow says that idea is a fantasy dreamt up by Ukraine’s pro-Western leaders ahead of elections next year. It says it has the right to patrol the strait.

But Berdyansk’s businesses say the patrols target ships bound for Ukraine, causing damaging delays.

The recent escalation in tensions has not affected ships coming to pick up grain from the Russian side of the Azov Sea, according to Sergei Filipov, director of trading firm QAM7 Dubai, which has operations there. He said inspections have delayed travel by the usual two or three days.

On its eleventh day at anchor in Kerch Strait, with skies finally clear, Island Bay reported to Berdyansk: “We called everywhere to make guards (come and) inspect the vessel, but their intentions cannot be explained.”

The situation has sent Rusin racing to further revise down his business forecasts.

Climbing out onto the windswept roof of his office on Friday, he pointed to a single truck of grain where multiple trucks used to line up along the dock.

“We had expected to load around 150,000 tonnes over the next three months… Maybe 200,000,” he said. Now the company is preparing for anything between 50,000 tonnes and no business at all, he said.

“This was a change of plan that happened this week.”

The Azov Sea grain supply chain makes up just 2 to 3 percent of Ukraine’s agricultural exports, deputy central bank chief Dmitry Sologub said. But for the southeastern Zaporozhye region, home to 1.8 million people, it is critical.

At the government Port Authority in Berdyansk, officials said they feared for the port’s future as clients look to other locations with direct access to the Black Sea.

“Of course we would prefer (to use other ports),” said Erdem Sekreter, fleet manager at Turkey’s Bayraktar shipping group, which has two ships waiting to cross the Kerch Strait to reach the Ukrainian coast.

“It is getting more expensive for ship-owners to go to the Azov Sea – the Ukrainian side of course,” he added. “We are paying out of our pocket now.”

FARMERS AND TRADERS

Bison Group owns 40,000 hectares of arable land in Zaporozhye region and exports much of its harvest via Berdyansk.

With ship-owners raising freight charges to factor in the new risks in the Azov Sea, the costs will be passed down to grain producers, Bison deputy director Igor Serov said. “It hits agricultural producers really hard.”

Prices will have to go down by at least $10 per tonne, a trader at Atria Brokers, which handles Berdyansk grain, said.

But producers may not have other options. The railway infrastructure is not in place to send exports via Black Sea ports instead, Serov said, and transferring grain by truck to Odessa, for example, would cost an extra $40 per tonne.

Buyers are also pulling back, afraid of the risks.

“Our sales have fallen,” the Atria trader said. “It has affected us in a fundamental way.”

Every day Island Bay’s cargo sits in port, it racks up costs for traders. Grain can spoil, and storage costs are steep.

“The market is suffering… everyone along the chain is paying the price for these war games,” a grain trader said, declining to be named due to the sensitivity of the situation.

On Tuesday, Ukraine’s agriculture ministry said some grain shipments from the Azov Sea had resumed.

Five of the 14 ships headed to the Ukrainian port of Mariupol, held up since the stand-off, were still waiting to cross on Wednesday, Refinitiv data showed. One had turned back to Istanbul.

In comparison, of the ships aiming for one of Russian city Rostov-on-Don’s ports, that had arrived to Kerch Strait since the stand-off began, none were still waiting for passage, the data showed the same day.

Only one out of the six boats headed to Berdyansk had crossed by Wednesday. After twelve days at anchor in the waters near the strait, Island Bay was still waiting.

(Additional reporting by Pavel Polityuk and Natalia Zinets in KIEV and Polina Devitt in MOSCOW; editing by Philippa Fletcher)