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Captured US military veterans may face death penalty; Ben Stiller meets ‘hero’ Zelenskyy: Live Ukraine updates – USA TODAY

Two American veterans who were captured earlier this month by Russian-backed separatist forces in a battle near Kharkiv may face the death penalty, Russian spokesman Dmitry Peskov told NBC News.

Peskov said the fates of Andy Tai Ngoc Huynh, 27, and Alexander Drueke, 39, will be decided by a Russian court. They were “involved in illegal activities …(and) should be punished,” he said, adding that they weren’t likely to be protected by Geneva Conventions afforded prisoners of war because they weren’t part of Ukraine’s regular army. 

The State Department issued a statement calling on “the Russian government – as well as its proxies – to live up to their international obligations in their treatment of any individual, including those captured fighting in Ukraine.”

Huynh and Drueke are believed to be the first Americans captured by Russian forces since the war began on Feb. 24. The veterans traveled to Ukraine in April to help Ukrainians repel Russian forces.

MORE:Family of two US military veterans speak out about missing men

Last week, two Britons and a Moroccan were sentenced to death by Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine. Prosecutors claimed they were mercenaries and not entitled to protections afforded prisoners of war. When asked if the Americans would face the same fate, Petrov said he “cannot guarantee anything. It depends on the investigation.”

Latest developments

►The Nobel Peace Prize auctioned off by Russian journalist Dmitry Muratov to raise money for Ukrainian child refugees sold Monday night for $103.5 million, more than 20 times the highest amount previously paid for a Nobel. Muratov also donated to charity the $500,000 that came with the prize.

USA TODAY ON TELEGRAM: Join our Russia-Ukraine war channel to receive updates straight to your phone.

Ben Stiller meets with ‘hero’ Zelenskyy in Ukraine

Actor and director Ben Stiller, a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations refugee program, met with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Monday after visiting ruined residential areas of Irpin and talking to people who survived the occupation.

“It’s really wonderful, you are my hero, you’re amazing,” Stiller said in greeting Zelenskyy. “What you’ve done and the way you have rallied the country and … the world, it’s really inspiring.”

Stiller expressed dismay at the devastation the war has wrought in Irpin – a city not far from the capital of Kyiv that was hammered, then abandoned, by the Russians. The destruction looks much worse up close than it does on TV or social media, he said.

“What you saw in Irpin is definitely dreadful,” Zelenskyy responded. “But it is even worse to just imagine what is happening in the settlements that are still under temporary occupation in the east.”

Attorney General Garland visits Ukraine for meeting with prosecutor

Attorney General Merrick Garland made an unannounced visit to Ukraine on Tuesday for a meeting with Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova to discuss the continuing effort to identify and apprehend suspected war criminals, according to a Justice Department official. Earlier this year, the attorney general pledged U.S. support for an international campaign to hold war criminals accountable for atrocities being documented by Ukrainian authorities.

“Every day, we see the heartbreaking images and read the horrific accounts of brutality… but there is no hiding place for war criminals.” Garland said during a virtual meeting last month with his Ukrainian counterpart and other allies.

Kevin Johnson

Ukraine LGBTQ community struggles as war drags on 

The official Pride parade in Kyiv was canceled this year after a decade of hard-fought efforts for more acceptance of LGBTQ people

Before Russia invaded, Ukraine — a largely religious nation with a long history of oppression against sexual and gender expression — had increasingly become a rare bright spot for LGBTQ rights and a sanctuary of sorts for Eastern Europe. Ex-Soviet LGBTQ individuals would travel to experience a gay nightclub scene, especially in larger cities like Kyiv, Kharkiv and Odesa, where they could feel safer to be open.

Now, what would have been the 10th anniversary of the Equality March in Kyiv this month was relocated to Poland because of the ongoing war.

“We had a lot and I hope we will rebuild it,” said Yuriy Dvizhon, creative director of UKRAINEPRIDE. Read more here.

– Tami Abdollah, USA TODAY 

Zelenskyy: Africa ‘taken hostage’ by Russia

Africa has been “taken hostage” by Russia, which is to blame for dramatic shortages of wheat and fast-rising food and fuel prices across the African continent, Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy told the African Union continental body during a closed-door address.

Many African nations have close trading ties to Russia and have shown little interest in sanctions. Zelenskyy and the West are trying to change that – European Union’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell, said Russia’s blockade of Ukrainian exports amounts to a “war crime.”

Estonia chastises Russia after helicopter encroachment

A Russian military helicopter entered Estonian airspace without permission Saturday, flying above the Koidula region along the Russia border for about two minutes, Estonia’s defense ministry said in a statement Tuesday.

A flight plan was not filed, the transponder was switched off and two-way radio communication was not established with Estonian air traffic control, the ministry said.

Russia’s ambassador to Estonia Vladimir Lipajev was summoned by Estonia’s foreign affairs ministry. “Estonia considers this an extremely serious and regrettable incident that undoubtedly causes additional tensions and is completely unacceptable,” the foreign affairs ministry said Tuesday.

Estonia is a nation of less than 3 million people that broke from the Soviet Union in 1991.

Zelenskyy aide: Ukraine faces threat of ‘massive’ attack from Black Sea

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s adviser, Oleksiy Arestovych, said via social media Monday that Ukraine is under threat of a new Russian attack of large proportions, posting: “All six carriers of Russian cruise missiles lined up in the Black Sea and are most likely preparing for a massive launch of missiles.”

In a nightly address Sunday, Zelenskyy warned of a likely offensive coming from Russia this week, when the European Union will debate whether to make Ukraine an official candidate to eventually join the bloc. 

“Obviously, we should expect greater hostile activity from Russia. Purposefully, demonstratively. This week exactly,” Zelenskyy said. “And not only against Ukraine, but also against other European countries. We are preparing. We are ready. We warn partners.”

If they do launch an attack, the Russians could be retaliating for Ukrainian missile strikes Monday on three drilling rigs in the Black Sea that supply natural gas to Crimea, the Ukrainian peninsula the Kremlin illegally annexed in 2014. The state-owned TASS news agency reported the strikes caused injuries. The Ukraine military has not provided confirmation.

Contributing: The Associated Press

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