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Ukraine remains on edge as it marks independence day

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Ukraine is marking 31 years since it broke free from the Soviet Union, as the war wages into its sixth month

Public gatherings are banned in Ukraine’s capital of Kyiv and a curfew remains in place in some cities as the country marks 31 years of independence.

The nation of 41 million people has been in the grips of a waging war against Russian forces for six months.

President Volodymyr Zelensky is warning Russia’s worst may be yet to come, and expects attacks to ramp up this week.

The wartime leader is pushing back against making any territorial concessions to Russia’s President Vladimir Putin.

“We are fighting against the most terrible threat to our statehood and also at a time when we have achieved the greatest level of national unity,” he said.

Thousands of civilians have been killed in the war as people flee their homes, and leave loved ones behind.

A virtual summit was held on Tuesday with 60 states and international organisations to discuss the situation in Crimea, which was annexed by Russia in 2014.

“In my remarks to the Crimea Platform Summit, I urged the international community to keep raising the costs and pressure on President Putin and his enablers until all Russian troops leave Ukraine,” said U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

The cost of war

The war in Ukraine has shaken global markets and shot up the price of basic goods, including grains and fuel.

Corporate giants have also responded with McDonald’s and Nike becoming some of the big companies to depart Russia as a result of its invasion.

The Kremlin maintains the war is a “special military operation” designed to “denazify” Ukraine.

However, western allies have banded together with sanctions against Russian institutions and oligarchs.

“I pay tribute to the brave Ukrainian women and men fighting for their freedom and their country.”

JENS STOLTENBERG, NATO SECRETARY GENERAL

The U.S. has contributed $10.6 billion in assistance to Ukraine, with another $3 billion expected this week.

Costa is a news producer at ticker NEWS. He has previously worked as a regional journalist at the Southern Highlands Express newspaper. He also has several years' experience in the fire and emergency services sector, where he has worked with researchers, policymakers and local communities. He has also worked at the Seven Network during their Olympic Games coverage and in the ABC Melbourne newsroom. He also holds a Bachelor of Arts (Professional), with expertise in journalism, politics and international relations. His other interests include colonial legacies in the Pacific, counter-terrorism, aviation and travel.

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U.S. fighters shoot down Chinese spy balloon – now what?

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U.S. military fighter aircraft shot down a suspected Chinese spy balloon as it floated off the coast of South Carolina on Saturday, drawing to a close a dramatic saga that shone a spotlight on worsening Sino-U.S. relations.

“We successfully took it down, and I want to compliment our aviators who did it,” President Joe Biden said.

Biden said he had issued an order on Wednesday to take down the balloon, but the Pentagon had recommended waiting until it could be done over open water to safeguard civilians from debris crashing down to Earth from thousands of feet (meters) above commercial air traffic.

China has mounted “the largest intelligence operation in the history of the human race” against the US and Australia, a former top US intelligence official has warned, as the US military shot down a Chinese spy balloon as it neared the Atlantic coast above the Carolinas.

Multiple fighter and refueling aircraft were involved in the mission, but only one — an F-22 fighter jet from Langley Air Force Base in Virginia — took the shot at 2:39 p.m. (1939 GMT), using a single AIM-9X supersonic, heat-seeking, air-to-air missile, a senior U.S. military official said.

The balloon was shot down about six nautical miles off the U.S. coast, over relatively shallow water, potentially aiding efforts to recover key elements of the Chinese surveillance equipment among the debris in the coming days, officials said.

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Russia throws more troops at Ukraine front line

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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy says the situation on the front lines in the east of the country is getting tougher and Russia was throwing more and more troops into battle.

Russian forces are slowly gaining ground in the Donbas region, encircling the city of Bakhmut north of Donetsk and battling to take control of a nearby road which is a major supply route for Ukrainian forces. They are also trying to capture Vuhledar, southwest of Donetsk.

“I’ve often had to say the situation at the front is tough, and is getting tougher, and it’s that time again. … The invader is putting more and more of his forces into breaking down our defences,” Zelenskiy said in a video address.

“It is very difficult now in Bakhmut, Vuhledar, Lyman and other directions,” he continued.

Earlier in the day, Deputy Defence Minister Hanna Malyar wrote on Telegram that Russian efforts to break the defences in Bakhmut and Lyman had failed.

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Balloon diplomacy blows China off course

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China claims an “airship” that is flying over the United States is for civilian meteorological and other scientific purposes and voiced regret that it strayed into U.S. airspace.

U.S. officials said on Thursday that a Chinese spy balloon has been flying over the United States for a couple of days, in what would be a brazen act just days ahead of a planned trip to Beijing by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

In a statement late on Friday, China’s foreign ministry also said that it would continue to maintain communications with the United States to properly handle the unexpected situation.

“The airship is from China and is civilian in nature, used for meteorological and other scientific research. Due to the influence of westerly winds and its limited control capability, the airship deviated from its intended course,” it said.

“China regrets that the airship strayed into the United States by mistake due to force majeure. China will continue to maintain communication with the U.S. side to properly handle this accident,” it said.

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