Milan Fashion Week Hears Calls for More Designer Diversity

Haitian Italian designer Stella Jean returned to the Milan runway after a two-year hiatus with a tour de force that highlighted the talents of 10 new designers of color whose design history is tied to Italy. Jean pledged in 2020 not to return to Milan Fashion Week, which opened Wednesday, until she was not the only Black designer. The We Are Made in Italy movement she founded with Black American designer Edward Buchanan and Afro Fashion Week Milano founder Michelle Ngomno ensured she would not be. Maximilian Davis, a 27-year-old British fashion designer with Afro-Caribbean roots, is making his debut as the creative director for Salvatore Ferragamo. Filipino American designer Rhuigi Villasenor is bringing Bally back to the runway for the first time in 20 years. Tokyo James, founded by British Nigerian designer Iniye Tokyo James, is presenting a women’s-only collection. Jean is headlining a runway show with Buchanan and five new We Are Made in Italy designers, including a Vietnamese apparel designer, an Italian Indian accessory designer and an African American bag designer. It is the third WAMI group to present their collections in Milan. “We are making ourselves felt,” Jean told The Associated Press. “We invited all these young people. We created the space. There have been gains.” Buchanan opened the show with jersey knitwear with a denim feel from his Sansonvino 6 line, followed by capsule collections by the latest group of Fabulous Five WAMI designers, and Jean’s creations combining Italian tailoring with artisanal references she sources around the globe. Each of the new WAMI designers share a connection with Italy, either through family or by relocating to study or work here. Italian Indian designer Eileen Claudia Akbaraly showed her Made for a Woman brand that makes ethically sourced raffia garments and accessories from Madagascar. New York-based …

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Russia’s Lavrov Dismisses Western ‘Hysteria’ Over Ukraine Referenda

Russia’s foreign minister has dismissed Ukrainian and Western condemnation of what they say are sham referenda in four regions of Ukraine. “The hysteria which we have seen is very telling,” Sergey Lavrov told a news conference at the United Nations on Saturday, after he addressed the General Assembly’s annual meeting. Voting began Friday and will run through Tuesday in the provinces of Luhansk, Kherson and the partially Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhia and Donetsk regions. Polls also opened in Russia, where refugees and other residents from those areas could vote. In Ukraine, some local officials said voters were being intimidated and threatened. Kyiv and Western nations warn that the referenda are aimed at annexing the occupied areas and denounce them as a violation of international law. “As was said by President Putin, we will unconditionally respect the results of these democratic processes,” Lavrov said. Ukraine says it will never accept Russian control of any of its territory and has requested that the U.N. Security Council meet Tuesday to discuss the escalation. The referenda were quickly organized after Ukraine recaptured large swaths of the northeastern part of the country in a counteroffensive earlier this month. By annexing the four areas into Russia, Western officials fear Moscow could portray Ukrainian military operations to retake them as an attack on Russia itself, potentially even using that to justify a nuclear response. Calls for peace At the United Nations, Russia’s strategic partners urged an end to the conflict, which has exacerbated global food, fuel and financial crises. China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, said Beijing does not want to see the crisis “spilling over” and called for talks. “The fundamental solution is to address the legitimate security concerns of all parties and build a balanced, effective and sustainable security architecture,” he said. India’s foreign minister said his country …

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Ukrainian Push Slowed by Rain, River and Russian Holdouts

What had been a lightning push by Ukraine to drive Moscow’s forces from the eastern Kharkiv region slowed to a brutal slog Saturday, stalled by heavy rain and Russian resistance. In the frontline town of Kupiansk against a background of constant shelling noise a column of dark smoke rose across the Oskil River, which separates the Ukrainian-held west bank from the east, still disputed by Russian forces. “For now, the rain is making it difficult to use heavy weapons everywhere. We can only use paved roads,” Ukrainian army sergeant Roman Malyna told AFP, as tanks and APCs maneuvered under the downpour.    “For now, because it’s hard to move forward due to the weather, we are targeting their armored vehicles, ammunition depots and groups of soldiers,” he said.   On Friday, Kupiansk’s military administrator Andriy Kanashevych told AFP that it might take Ukrainian forces 10 days to fully secure the area. Most of the shellfire on Saturday was outgoing — Ukrainian artillery targeting Russian positions in the woods beyond the east of the town — but with a Russian drone spotted overhead tension prevailed.   A few refugees were walking toward Ukrainian territory across the damaged bridge, its handrails still painted in the red, white and blue colors of Kupiansk’s former Russian occupiers. Two Ukrainian soldiers, well-equipped with U.S.-style assault rifles and body armor, and in good spirits despite fatigue and concern over the Russian drone buzzing above the debris-strewn road, also crossed back. One of them, using the nom de guerre “Mario,” said it was too soon to say when the east bank would come completely under Ukrainian control but was confident the Russians were in retreat.   “Only their bodies will be left behind,” he said. “In general, it’s all good, taking into account the scale of the …

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After Partial Russian Retreat, Chilling Signs of Horrors Against Ukrainians Revealed

Almost 2,000 innocent people have been killed by Russian forces in Bucha, Irpin, Mariupol, Ukraine – some just for speaking Ukrainian or having Ukrainian symbols. VOA’s Eastern Europe Bureau Chief Myroslava Gongadze was granted exclusive access to the scene of a mass graveyard in Izium in the Kharkiv region that contains more than 400 bodies. Most of them apparently died particularly violent deaths, with many victims found with their hands tied behind their backs, ropes around their necks, broken bones, and gunshot wounds. United Nations experts and Ukrainian officials have pointed to new evidence of war crimes in Ukraine. The head of a U.N.-mandated investigation body said Friday war crimes including rape, torture and the confinement of children have been committed in Russian-occupied areas of Ukraine. “Based on the evidence gathered by the commission, it has concluded that war crimes have been committed in Ukraine,” Erik Mose, who heads the Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine, told the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva. He did not specify who was to blame, but the commission has focused on areas previously occupied by Russian forces, such as Kyiv, Chernihiv, Kharkiv and Sumy. Investigators from the commission, created by the rights council in March, visited 27 places and interviewed more than 150 victims and witnesses A U.S. envoy told the council, “Numerous sources indicate that Russian authorities have interrogated, detained and forcible deported between 900,000 and 1.6 million Ukrainian citizens.” U.S. Ambassador Michele Taylor, U.S. permanent representative to the council, added, “We urge the commissioners to continue to examine the growing evidence of Russia’s filtration operations, forced deportations and disappearances.” Russia denies deliberately attacking civilians. Russia was called on to respond to the allegations at the U.N. Human Rights Council meeting, but its seat was left empty. There was no immediate official reaction …

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UN: Climate of Repression in Belarus Stifles Civil, Political Rights

The United Nations reports the human rights situation in Belarus has seriously deteriorated as the government seeks to maintain control over its people, stripping them of their civil and political rights. The report, submitted to the U.N. Human Rights Council, finds the climate of repression continues throughout Belarus two years after Alexander Lukashenko was reelected for a sixth term as president in a vote considered rigged by the country’s opposition. The anger over the election’s outcome that sparked large-scale protests at that time has not subsided.    Since her office’s last update in March, Acting High Commissioner for Human Rights, Nada Al-Nashif said there has been a massive crackdown on civil society in Belarus. She said the media, political opponents, trade unions and other perceived dissidents have been prevented from exercising their democratic and human rights. She said more than 1,300 political prisoners currently are behind bars.  She noted that authorities continue imprisoning and torturing people for exercising their human rights, including their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. “No genuine and impartial investigations into allegations of torture and cases of deaths are being conducted,” Al-Nashif said. “On the contrary, we continue to receive credible reports of authorities harassing and intimidating those seeking justice in relation to such allegations, including relatives of victims, further undermining the rule of law and the judicial system.”   Al-Nashif expressed particular concern about amendments to Belarus’ Criminal Code.  She said they extend the death penalty to people attempting to carry out so-called acts of terrorism and murders of government officials or public figures. She noted that dozens of political activists already have been charged with such crimes. “Tens of thousands of people have been forced to flee to neighboring countries,” she said. “The crackdown’s human rights impacts, particularly on women, children, and persons with …

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VOA Visits Mass Burial Site in Izium, Ukraine

Ukrainian officials announced on Friday that they had exhumed more than 400 bodies at a mass burial site near Izium, Kharkiv region, from which Russian troops recently retreated after a Ukrainian counteroffensive. Many of those buried there, they said, apparently died a violent death — bodies were found with their hands tied behind their backs, ropes around their necks, broken bones and gunshot wounds; some men had their genitalia severed. VOA Eastern Europe Bureau chief Myroslava Gongadze visited the site. …

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Church of England Prohibits Tutu’s Daughter from Officiating Funeral

The Church of England said the daughter of the late Archbishop Desmond Tutu could not be an officiant at her godfather’s funeral in England because she is married to a woman. The Rev. Mpho Tutu van Furth told The New York Times that she was “stunned” by the church’s “lack of compassion.” However, Tutu was able, in the end, to fulfil her godfather’s wish. She was able to officiate his funeral, as the service was moved from a church and was instead held in her godfather’s garden in Shropshire. Martin Kenyon, Tutu’s 92-year-old godfather, died last week. His funeral was held Thursday. Kenyon and Desmond Tutu became friends when they were both students at Kings College. The archbishop was Kenyon’s daughter’s godfather. …

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Ukraine Says Residents Coerced Into Russian Annexation Vote

Western nations and Ukraine say voting is a sham that began Friday on Russian referendums aimed at annexing four occupied regions of Ukraine. Some local officials said voters were being intimidated and threatened. In the balloting, scheduled to run from Friday to Tuesday in the provinces of Luhansk, Kherson and the partly Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhia and Donetsk regions, voters are being asked if they want their areas to become part of Russia. Polls also opened in Russia, where refugees and other residents from those areas could vote. The West and Ukraine said the voting is illegal under international law. “Any elections or referenda on the territory of Ukraine can only be announced and conducted by legitimate authorities in compliance with national legislation and international standards,” the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe a said in a statement. “Therefore, the planned ‘referenda’ will be illegal.” Ukrainian officials said people were banned from leaving some occupied areas until the vote was over, armed groups were going to homes to force people to cast ballots, and employees were told they could be fired if they did not participate. Serhiy Haidai, Ukraine’s Luhansk governor, said in the town of Starobilsk, the population was banned from leaving and people were being forced out of their homes to vote. “Today, the best thing for the people of Kherson would be not to open their doors,” said Yuriy Sobolevsky, the displaced first deputy council chairman of Kherson region. The results of the referendums, expected soon after the voting, are almost certain to support joining Russia.   “We are returning home,” said the Russian-backed leader of Donetsk, Denis Pushilin. “Donbas is Russia.” “All of us have been waiting for a referendum on joining Russia for eight long years,” said Leonid Pasechnik, the Russian-backed leader of Luhansk. “We have already …

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Thousands of Russians Flee Military Mobilization as Anti-War Protests Erupt

Thousands of Russians are trying to flee the country to escape the partial mobilization of civilians into the military. The move was announced Wednesday in a televised address by President Vladimir Putin, after Russian armed forces suffered significant losses in recent weeks of their invasion of Ukraine. Some European officials say this poses a security threat at their borders, and they intend to shift the onus to Putin at home by keeping their borders closed. The Associated Press reports Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics said Thursday that many of those fleeing “were fine with killing Ukrainians. They did not protest then. It is not right to consider them as conscientious objectors.” Border chaos At land borders in the country’s east, south and west, lines of cars stretched several kilometers Friday, as Russian citizens – mostly men of conscription age – tried to escape the draft. Footage obtained by Radio Free Europe (VOA’s sister organization) showed long lines of cars and trucks at the Zemo Larsi crossing into Georgia. Russian citizen Ivan, who did not want to give his full name, said the crossing took 12 hours. “I think the Russian border guards were letting people through very slowly. For example, yesterday before midnight you could cross the border much more quickly. After midnight, either lots of cars arrived or the border guards started to work more slowly,” he told Reuters. Increased traffic and long lines also were reported at Russia’s borders with Kazakhstan and Mongolia. In the far west, Finnish border guards reported that traffic from Russia has more than doubled in the past 48 hours. Among those fleeing the draft was 34-year-old Nikita, who did not want to give his full name. “I am afraid. Because it’s a very big mistake, for Russia, for Europe, and of course for …

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Russian Troops Have Committed War Crimes in Ukraine, UN Investigators Say

U.N. investigators say there is evidence that Russian forces who invaded Ukraine in February 2022 committed war crimes. The Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine presented its findings Friday to the U.N. Human Rights Council.  The commission centered its inquiry on events from late February and March in the regions of Kyiv, Chernihiv, Kharkiv and Sumy. It says it documented many human rights violations, including the illegal use of explosive weapons, indiscriminate attacks in civilian areas, torture, and sexual and gender-based violence.  Commission Chair Erik Mese said Russia’s illegal use of explosive weapons has caused immense suffering among the civilian population, and accounts for most of the deaths recorded by United Nations monitors.   He said investigators were struck by the large number of executions in 16 towns and settlements they visited.  “Common elements of such crimes include the prior detention of the victims as well as visible signs of executions on bodies, such as hands tied behind backs, gunshot wounds to the head, and slit throats,” Mese said.  The commission interviewed more than 150 victims and witnesses. Mese said witnesses have provided consistent accounts of ill-treatment and torture. Some reported they had been transferred to prisons in the Russian Federation, where they were subjected to beatings, electric shocks, and other violations.  Mese said investigations into cases of sexual and gender-based violence found the victims of sexual abuse by Russian soldiers ranged in age from four to 82 years.  “The commission has documented cases in which children have been raped, tortured, and unlawfully confined,” Mese said. “Children have also been killed and injured in indiscriminate attacks with explosive weapons.”  Anton Korynevych, ambassador-at-large for Ukraine Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said these crimes perpetrated by Russia must not go unpunished. He is calling for the establishment of a special tribunal with …

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Turkey’s Anti-LGBTQ Display Reflects Nation’s Political Shift

The 25-year-old translator by day and trans drag performer by night felt overwhelming panic and anxiety when several thousand demonstrators gathered and marched Sunday in Turkey to demand a ban on what they consider gay propaganda and to outlaw LGBTQ organizations. The Big Family Gathering march in the conservative heart of Istanbul attracted parents with children, nationalists, hard-line Islamists and conspiracy theorists. Turkey’s media watchdog gave the event the government’s blessing by including a promotional video that called LGBTQ people a “virus” in its list of public service announcements for broadcasters. “We need to make all our defense against this LGBT. We need to get rid of it,” said construction worker Mehmet Yalcin, 21, who attended the event wearing a black headband printed with Islam’s testimony of faith. “We are sick of and truly uncomfortable that our children are being encouraged and pulled to this. Seeing images from the gathering terrified Willie Ray, the drag performer who identifies as nonbinary, and Willie Ray’s mother, who was in tears after talking to her child. The fear wasn’t misplaced. The Europe branch of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association ranked Turkey second to last, ahead of only Azerbaijan, in its most recent 49-country legal equality index, saying LGBTQ people endured “countless hate crimes.” “I feel like I can be publicly lynched,” Willie Ray said, describing the daily sense of dread that comes with living in Istanbul. The performer recalls leaving a nightclub still in makeup on New Year’s Eve and hurrying to get to a taxi as strangers on the street called out slurs and “tried to hunt me, basically.” Sunday’s march was the biggest anti-LGBTQ demonstration of its kind in Turkey, where civil rights for a community more commonly referred to here as LGBTI+ — lesbian, gay, bisexual, …

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Russian- Orchestrated Voting Begins in Ukraine’s Occupied Regions

Russian-orchestrated voting has begun in occupied regions of Ukraine in referendums that ask voters if they want their regions to become part of Russia. The voting began Friday in Luhansk, Kherson and partly Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhia and Donetsk regions. The voting, widely viewed as a way for Russia to justify the annexation of the regions, has been widely condemned by the West. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said the referendums are illegal. “Any elections or referenda on the territory of Ukraine can only be announced and conducted by legitimate authorities in compliance with national legislation and international standards,” the OSCE said in a statement.  “Therefore the planned ‘referenda’ will be illegal.” Friday’s voting follows Russian President Vladimir Putin’s announcement that he intends to call up 300,000 more troops for his “special military operation” in Ukraine. Putin said in a televised address this week the mobilization of reserves, which followed Ukrainian gains in a counteroffensive in northeastern Ukraine, is necessary to protect Russia’s homeland and sovereignty. Putin said the West is trying to weaken and destroy Russia, and that his country will “use all the means at our disposal to protect Russia and our people.” Street protests against the mobilization erupted in Moscow and other Russian cities, with police arresting 1,300 demonstrators. The British Defense Ministry said in its intelligence report Friday: “In the last three days, Ukrainian forces have secured bridgeheads on the east bank of the Oskil River in Kharkiv Oblast. … To the south, in Donetsk Oblast, fighting is ongoing as Ukrainian forces assault the town of Lyman, east of the Siverskyy Donets River, which Russia captured in May. The battlefield situation remains complex, but Ukraine is now putting pressure on territory Russia considers essential to its war aims.” …

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Australia Calls on China to Help End War in Ukraine

Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong called on China to use its influence to end Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.  Wong spoke to reporters Thursday after a meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York. Wong said she held a “constructive” meeting with her Chinese counterpart. Australia wants China to use its position as a permanent U.N. Security Council member to urge Moscow to stop the war in Ukraine. Australia has promised to continue to provide military support to Ukraine.  Russian President Vladimir Putin escalated the conflict this week, including threatening the use of all weapons and ordering a mass mobilization of reservists, the first time since World War II. Wong condemned Russia’s aggression in her remarks Thursday. “These threats are unthinkable and they are irresponsible,” she said. “His claims of defending Russia’s territorial integrity are untrue. No sham referendum will make them true.  Russia alone is responsible for this illegal and immoral war, and peace must first lie with Russia withdrawing from Ukrainian territory.” Australia is the largest non-NATO contributor of military aid to Ukraine.  It has sent missiles and armored personnel carriers as well as humanitarian supplies and imposed sanctions on hundreds of Russian politicians, military commanders and businesspeople.    Canberra has so far spent an estimated $240 million on armaments and military support to Ukraine.  Since February, Australia has granted visas to almost 9,000 Ukrainian refugees. Opposition lawmakers want Australia to follow the United States and increase its assistance to Ukraine. Shadow Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Birmingham said the world must continue to apply maximum pressure to Russian President Vladimir Putin. …

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‘Crucial’ Vote Could Move Italy to Right; Many Might Boycott

Italians will vote on Sunday in what is being billed as a crucial election as Europe reels from repercussions of Russia’s war in Ukraine. For the first time in Italy since the end of World War II, the election could propel a far-right leader into the premiership.   Soaring energy costs and quickly climbing prices for staples like bread — the consequences of Russia’s invasion of breadbasket Ukraine — have pummeled many Italian families and businesses.   Against that bleak backdrop, Giorgia Meloni and her Brothers of Italy party — with neo-fascist roots and an agenda of God, homeland and Christian identity — appear to be the front-runners in Italy’s parliamentary election.   They could be a test case for whether hard-right sentiment is gaining more traction in the 27-nation European Union. Recently, a right-wing party in Sweden surged in popularity by capitalizing on peoples’ fears about crime.   Meloni’s main alliance partner is right-wing League party leader Matteo Salvini, who blames crime on migrants. Salvini has long been a staunch ideological booster of right-wing governments in Hungary and Poland.   “Elections in the middle of a war, in the midst of an energy crisis and the dawn of what is likely to be an economic crisis … almost by definition are crucial elections,″ said Nathalie Tocci, director of Rome-based think tank the International Affairs Institute. Russian President Vladimir Putin, who ordered Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, is gambling that “Europe will break” under the weight of economic and energy problems brought on by the war, Tocci told The Associated Press.   Salvini, who draws his voter base from business owners in Italy’s north, has donned pro-Putin T-shirts in the past. Salvini has also questioned the wisdom of maintaining Western economic sanctions against Russia, saying they could hurt …

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At UN, Security Council Members Reject Putin’s Annexation Plans

U.N. Security Council members on Thursday condemned Russia for escalating the war in Ukraine, criticizing its mobilization of more troops and President Vladimir Putin’s threat to use nuclear weapons. “Every council member should send a clear message that these reckless nuclear threats must stop immediately,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told a special session of the council’s foreign ministers held on the sidelines of the General Assembly’s annual gathering. “This is a war of annexation. A war of conquest,” Britain’s new Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said, “to which President Putin now wants to send even more of Russia’s young men and women, making peace even less likely.” Putin announced Wednesday that he is calling up 300,000 more troops for his “special military operation” in Ukraine. “Yesterday, Putin announced mobilization. But what he really announced before the whole world was his defeat,” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said. “You can draft 300,000 or 500,000 people, but he will never win this war. Today, every Ukrainian is a weapon, ready to defend Ukraine and the principles enshrined in the U.N. Charter.” The Russian president has also announced plans to hold referenda in four occupied parts of Ukraine in an apparent attempt to annex them. “It is an attempt to change internationally recognized borders by use of force — and no sham referendums can change that basic fact,” Ireland’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Minister Simon Coveney said. “It cannot be allowed to stand.” Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told the council that the latest developments are “dangerous and disturbing.” “The idea of nuclear conflict, once unthinkable, has become a subject of debate,” he said. “This in itself is totally unacceptable.” Allies’ discomfort Even Russia’s allies expressed their growing unease with the war’s direction. “The trajectory of the Ukraine conflict is a matter of profound …

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