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Ukrainians grapple with power outages as winter approaches

Ukrainians grapple with power outages as winter approaches

The decorative candles Yaroslav Vedmid bought more than a year ago were never meant to be lit, but the dried wax that now clings to them attests to how they’ve been used almost nightly — a consequence of power cuts across Ukraine.

Seated at the dinner table with his wife in a village on the outskirts of the capital, Kyiv, the two can’t count the number of times they’ve eaten in the dark since Russian attacks triggered the blackouts beginning in early October. Moscow has openly declared its intention to target the country’s energy infrastructure and drive the nation into the cold.

When you’re relying on electricity, the worst thing is that you can’t plan … Psychologically it’s very uncomfortable,” said Vedmid, a 44-year-old business owner in Bilohorodka. The cuts are getting longer — nearly 12 hours of outages a day, he said.

So far, Russia has destroyed about 40% of Ukraine’s energy infrastructure, affecting 16 regions, according to the Ukrainian government.

The latest assault came Monday, when a massive barrage of Russian cruise missile and drone strikes hit Kyiv, Kharkiv and other cities, knocking out water and power supplies in apparent retaliation for what Moscow alleged was a Ukrainian attack on its Black Sea fleet.

The unpredictable rolling blackouts are increasing as the government scrambles to stabilize the energy grid and repair the system ahead of winter. The cuts add another layer of angst and uncertainty to a population already struggling with the stress of nearly nine months of war.

To try to ease people’s burdens, energy companies are publishing daily schedules of when neighborhoods won’t have power. But it’s not consistent, especially as strikes intensify. Last week a power station in the central region was damaged, causing an emergency shutdown and prompting the government to warn citizens of tougher and longer outages.

“Unfortunately, the destruction and damage are serious,” Kyiv region Gov. Oleksiy Kuleba said in a Telegram post. “It is necessary to prepare for emergency power outages for an indefinite period,” he said.

Across the capital, residents are stocking up on heaters, blankets, warm clothing and power banks to charge electronics. While most say they’re willing to bear the brunt of the blackouts for the sake of the war, the frequency and fluidity of the outages are taxing.

Starting Tuesday, the government plans to change the schedule of the Kyiv subway to include longer wait times to save energy.

On the day that The Associated Press visited Vedmid’s house in October, there was an unscheduled five-hour power outage and then a scheduled one during dinner.

Every time the power shuts off, the family loses internet service. Because the village also has a weak phone network, the household is often unable to communicate with others.

Staring at his mobile phone, Vedmid shrugs. Google Maps isn’t working, and he doesn’t know how long it will take to reach the train station for a planned trip with his wife to the country.

But what concerns him most are the months ahead when temperatures could drop to minus 20 degrees Celsius (minus 4 degrees Fahrenheit). “My major fears are for (the) cold part of season, for winter, because right now it influences our comfort but doesn’t threaten our lives,” he said.

The family has ordered a generator, which should be installed by December, but demand has spiked and not everyone can afford to buy one or the fuel to run it. Diesel has doubled in price since the start of the war, local residents said.

Still, some have found a silver lining to the shutdowns. Vedmid’s wife, Olena, said she reads more books rather than constantly refreshing the internet to see the latest war developments. It helps her feel less anxious.

If not for Russia’s incessant shelling and the lack of repair equipment, much of which must be imported, the damage could be restored within weeks, energy experts said.

“The main danger is repeated missile attacks,” said professor Gennadii Riabtsev, chief researcher on energy security at the National Institute for Strategic Studies. Residents of cities near the front lines, such as Mykolaiv, Zaporizhzhia and Kharkiv, will suffer the most from the outages, he said.

DTEK, Ukraine’s main energy company, said it has run out of equipment for repairs. The cost of the equipment runs into the hundreds of millions of dollars.

Russia is likely to continue the war into the winter, hoping to weaken Western support for Ukraine and “freeze Europe into surrender,” according to a report issued this week by the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank.

Residents near the front lines say they are bracing for conditions to get worse.

Mariia Chupinina was dealing with blackouts in Kharkiv even before the rolling outages began in the region this week. The woman who fosters orphaned children lives on the fifth floor of an apartment building and takes care of four babies who are less than 12 months old. When there’s no electricity, it’s impossible to heat the apartment, and every time they leave, they have to walk down five flights of stairs in the dark, she told the AP by phone.

If Chupinina forgets to plan ahead, the babies won’t have anything to eat. “If you have not prepared, you don’t have time to fill the Thermos, and there’s no warm water or formula,” she said.

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International

Guatemalan Leader, Deputy Jailed For Fraud

A Guatemalan court on Wednesday sentenced former President Otto Perez to 16 years in prison, finding him guilty of leading a massive customs fraud scheme while in office.

Perez, who was forced to resign in 2015, was found guilty of racketeering and fraud targeting the customs system, Judge Irma Valdes said as she read out the sentence.

Perez was sentenced to eight years on each count.

His former vice president Roxana Baldetti received the same sentence.

A United Nations-backed anti-corruption body revealed several scandals in Guatemala before it was shut down in 2019 by then-President Jimmy Morales after it began investigating him.

One of its key successes was uncovering a multimillion-dollar scheme to cheat Guatemala’s customs duty system, which ultimately led to Perez’s resignation.

Those involved in the scheme – known as “La Linea” (The Line) – received bribes of some $3.5 million, according to investigators, who estimate that Guatemala was defrauded out of almost $10 million in tax revenue.

After the sentence was handed down Perez, 72, told reporters, “I truly feel frustrated, I feel disappointed.”

He said he would appeal the ruling.

Sixteen other people involved in the scam were convicted during the sentencing and 11 others were acquitted.

“The ‘La Linea’ case is one of the most symbolic and is a milestone in Guatemalan history,” director of Transparency International’s local chapter, Citizen Action, Edie Cux, told AFP.

“It is important that in some way the people of Guatemala have justice and that the case does not go unpunished,” she added.

(AFP)

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International

Trump Organization Convicted Of Tax Fraud

Donald Trump’s real estate company was convicted on Tuesday of carrying out a 15-year-long criminal scheme to defraud tax authorities, adding to the legal woes facing the former U.S. president as he campaigns for the office again in 2024.

The Trump Organization – which operates hotels, golf courses, and other real estate around the world – was found guilty of paying personal expenses for top executives including former chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg, and issuing bonus checks to them as if they were independent contractors.

The company faces up to $1.6 million in fines after being convicted on all charges, including scheming to defraud tax authorities, conspiracy and falsifying business records. Trump was not charged in the case.

Justice Juan Merchan, who presided over the trial in state court in New York, set a sentencing date for Jan. 13.

While the fine is not expected to be material for a company of the Trump Organization’s size, the conviction could complicate its ability to do business.

Weisselberg, 75, testified as the government’s star witness as part of a plea deal that calls for a sentence of five months in jail.

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, whose office prosecuted the case, called the verdict “very just.”

“The former president’s companies now stand convicted of crimes,” Bragg said in the New York courthouse after the verdict, speaking of the Trump Corporation and Trump Payroll Corporation, the two units of the Trump Organization which were convicted.

Asked if he regretted not charging Trump in the case, Bragg did not respond.

He has said that the office’s investigation into Trump is continuing.

(Reuters)

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International

Forbes says Elon Musk Is No Longer World’s Richest Man

Twitter owner and Tesla (TSLA.O) boss Elon Musk briefly lost his title as the world’s richest person on Wednesday, according to Forbes, following a steep drop in the value of his stake in the electric-car maker and a $44 billion bet on the social media firm.

Bernard Arnault, the chief executive of luxury brand Louis Vuitton’s parent company LVMH (LVMH.PA), and his family briefly took the title as the world’s richest, but were back at No. 2 with a personal wealth of $185.3 billion, according to Forbes.

Musk, who has held the top spot on the Forbes list since September 2021, has a net worth of $185.7 billion. Musk took over the title from Amazon.com (AMZN.O) founder Jeff Bezos.

Tesla shares, which have lost more than 47% in value since Musk made his offer to buy Twitter earlier this year, were down 2.7%.

Musk’s net worth dropped below $200 billion earlier on Nov. 8 as investors dumped Tesla’s shares on worries the top executive and largest shareholder of the world’s most valuable electric-vehicle maker is more preoccupied with Twitter.

Tesla has lost nearly half its market value and Musk’s net worth has dropped by about $70 billion since he bid for Twitter in April. Musk closed the deal for Twitter in October with $13 billion in loans and a $33.5 billion equity commitment.

Besides Tesla, Musk also heads rocket company SpaceX and Neuralink, a startup that is developing ultra-high bandwidth brain-machine interfaces to connect the human brain to computers.

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