Russia’s “Special Operation” In Ukraine; Day 74: Biden’s Wife, Canadian PM Visit Ukraine

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US imposes new sanctions on Russia

The US has unveiled sanctions against three Russian television stations, banned Americans from providing accounting and consulting services to Russians, and sanctioned executives from Gazprombank to punish Moscow for its invasion of Ukraine.

The move comes as President Joe Biden met virtually with leaders of the Group of 7 nations and President Volodymyr Zelensky.

“This is not a full block. We’re not freezing the assets of Gazprombank or prohibiting any transactions with Gazprombank,” a senior Biden administration official told reporters.

“What we’re signaling is that Gazprombank is not a safe haven, and so we’re sanctioning some of their top business executives … to create a chilling effect,” the official added.

Eight executives from Sberbank, which holds one-third of Russia’s banking assets, were added to the sanctions list. Moscow Industrial Bank and its 10 subsidiaries were also added.

“The United States also sanctioned eight executives from Sberbank– the largest financial institution in Russia and uniquely important to the Russian economy, holding about a third of all bank assets in Russia; twenty-seven executives from Gazprombank – a prominent Russian bank facilitating business by Russia’s Gazprom, one of the largest natural gas exporters in the world; and Moscow Industrial Bank and its ten subsidiaries,” the White House announced in its Fact Sheet on Sunday.

The US State Department has also announced a raft of visa bans and a new policy of visa restrictions on more than 2,500 Russian military officials and Russian-backed forces in Ukraine, according to a department fact sheet.

It also said it designated eight Russian maritime-related companies and added 69 vessels to a US Treasury Department sanctions list.


EU edges towards oil sanctions on Russia, no deal yet

European Union governments moved closer to agreeing tough sanctions against Russia that include a ban on buying Russian oil, but scheduled more talks for Monday to work out how to ensure countries most dependent on Russian energy can cope.

Diplomats of the 27 EU countries have been meeting daily to discuss details of the sixth sanctions package targeting Moscow since the European Commission announced proposals for it on May 4.

“The Council (of EU governments) is united on the need to adopt a 6th sanctions package,” the French presidency of the EU and the Commission said in a statement, adding, “Very significant progress has been made on most of the measures.”

The sticking point is how to secure oil supplies to landlocked Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, which all depend heavily on Russian crude delivered via Soviet-era pipelines and face a challenge to secure alternative sources.


Zelensky, German parliament chief discuss arms, EU membership

In a video of a meeting with German parliament’s President Baerbel Bas, President Volodymyr Zelensky has said that securing the Bundestag’s approval of heavy arms deliveries to help Ukraine fend off Russian attacks was one his country’s “top priorities.”

He also asked Bas and the Bundestag to support Ukraine in its bid for European Union membership, which Kyiv’s allies have said they want soon. However, candidature would have to be agreed unanimously and accession usually takes years of complex negotiations.


G7 leaders pledge further economic isolation of Russia

The Group of Seven leaders said in a joint statement that they will reinforce Russia’s economic isolation and “elevate” a campaign against Russian elites who support President Vladimir Putin.

After meeting virtually with President Volodymyr Zelensky, the leaders said they would cut off key services on which Russia depends, reinforcing the isolation of Russia “across all sectors of its economy.”

They also committed to phasing out dependency on Russian energy, including by banning imports of Russian oil.

“(W)e will continue and elevate our campaign against the financial elites and family members, who support President Putin in his war effort and squander the resources of the Russian people,” the statement added.


Russia says it hits US-supplied weapons in Ukraine

Russia says it had destroyed weapons and military equipment provided to Ukraine by the US and other unspecified Western countries.

Igor Konashenkov, Russia’s defence ministry’s spokesperson, stated “high-precision air-launched missiles of the Russian Aerospace Forces” struck the targets near the settlement of Soledar, TASS news agency reported.


Blinken speaks to Kuleba about return of US diplomats to Kyiv and security assistance

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke on Sunday with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba about the return of US diplomats to Kyiv and US security assistance to Ukraine.

According to a readout from State Department spokesperson Ned Price, Blinken informed Kuleba that US Charge d’Affaires Kristina Kvien “and a small group of diplomats, accompanied by State Department security, traveled to Kyiv to conduct diplomatic engagement in advance of the planned resumption of Embassy Kyiv operations, as the Secretary pledged to President [Volodymyr] Zelensky they would during his most recent visit to Kyiv.”

Blinken and Kuleba also discussed the new US security assistance to Ukraine, “including the ninth drawdown from US stocks authorized by President Biden and the expanded authorities that will be offered under the Ukraine Democracy Defense Lend-Lease Act of 2022,” Price said.


Ukrainian military says new Russian efforts to break through several areas failed

Ukraine’s armed forces say they have continued to resist efforts Sunday by Russian units to break through in several areas.

The main Russian thrust has been south from the town of Izium in an effort to encircle Ukrainian troops defending parts of Luhansk region.

The Ukrainian General Staff announced the “enemy regrouped units and replenished supplies to increase the offensive,” but an attempt to take new territory was repulsed.

In an apparent indication of the Russian switch of focus, the Ukrainians said: “The occupiers are no longer conducting an active offensive in the Kharkiv direction.”

However, parts of the region continue to be shelled by Russian artillery, and there has been fighting further east, very close to the Russian border, where Ukrainian forces are trying to advance on Russian supply lines.

In Luhansk, the general staff said that “the enemy is preparing to storm Severodonetsk and Lysychansk,” two towns that the Russians have been shelling for weeks. In the same region, the Russians appear to have full control now of the town of Popasna, but have not made progress beyond that in the direction of Bakhmut to the west.

In Mariupol, the general staff added, the intensity of hostilities had decreased.

One of the most active combat areas in recent days has been the Black Sea coast. Ukraine’s Air Command South said Sunday it had downed a Russian cruise missile launched by a Russian Su-35 in the skies over the Black Sea.


Acting US ambassador and a group of US diplomats return to embassy in Kyiv for first time since war began

Acting US Ambassador to Ukraine Kristina Kvien and a group of US diplomats returned to the embassy in Kyiv on Sunday for the first time since the war began more than two months ago.

The US embassy in the Ukrainian capital was shuttered in mid-February as concerns grew of Russian military action. A small group of US diplomats was relocated to the western Ukrainian city of Lviv before moving across the border to Poland and commuting back and forth into Ukraine. On Feb. 24 — the same day Russia’s military invasion began — the US suspended services in Lviv.

In late April, during a visit to Kyiv, Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced that the US would return diplomats to Ukraine. Diplomats had begun making day trips into Lviv following that announcement.

The visit by Kvien and other US diplomats to Kyiv comes of Victory in Europe Day — a day before Russia’s Victory Day — and on the same day that First Lady Jill Biden made a surprise visit to Ukraine.


Ukrainian steel factory under constant shelling by Russians

The Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol is under “constant intense shelling” by Russian forces trying to take the last remaining stronghold in the port city, according to the Azov brigade, who held an online news conference from a hideout location within the plant.

The Russians are attacking with “artillery, tanks, mortars, infantry and snipers,” according to the soldiers.

Azov soldier Illia Samoilenko said Russian troops have “reached a barrier in close proximity to Azov regiment positions.”

The Ukrainian fighters’ supplies are “limited” but they still have enough water and ammunition to withstand the attack, he continued.

“We still have munition, we still have personal weapons and we will fight till the best resolution of this situation,” Samoilenko added.


Jill Biden makes surprise visit to Ukraine

The US first lady Jill Biden has hold a surprise Mother’s Day meeting with her Ukrainian counterpart, Olena Zelenskyy, in an unexpected visit to Ukraine.

Biden traveled under the cloak of secrecy, becoming the latest high-profile American to enter the war-torn country. Her visit follows recent stops in Kyiv by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other members of Congress, as well as a joint trip by Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to meet with President Volodymyr Zelensky.

The first lady traveled by vehicle to the town of Uzhhorod from a Slovakian village that borders Ukraine.


Canadian PM visits Irpin town in Ukraine

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made on Sunday an unannounced visit to the Ukrainian town of Irpin, which had been temporary held by Russian troops, the town’s mayor said on Telegram.

“I’ve just had an honor to meet with the Prime Minister of Canada Justin Trudeau, who came to Irpin to see with his own eyes all the horror which Russian occupiers have caused to our town,” Oleksandr Markushyn stated.

The PM has traveled to Ukraine and will meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, according to Trudeau administration press secretary Cecely Roy.

“The Prime Minister is in Ukraine to meet with President Zelenskyy and reaffirm Canada’s unwavering support for the Ukrainian people,” Roy told CNN in an email Sunday morning.

The timing and location of the visit and meeting was not made available.


Several dead after civilian convoy escaping fighting near Kharkiv fired on: Police

A convoy of civilian vehicles trying to escape fighting near the city of Kharkiv was fired upon, killing several people, the Kharkiv region police said. Others are missing.

Serhiy Bolvinov, chief of the investigation department, stated police had lost contact with the convoy a few days ago.

There were 15 cars traveling near the village of Staryi Saltiv, which has seen heavy fighting in recent days as Ukrainian forces launch a counter-attack against the Russians east of Kharkiv.

At the time, the convoy was trying to reach territory controlled by the Ukrainians, Bolvinov continued, adding, “Due to the ongoing combat, it was not possible to reach the place of the column.”

The wreckage of the convoy was found on Friday, he said. Having arrived at the scene, investigators found a broken enemy tank and the bodies of two Russian soldiers.

A further 300 meters away, six cars with bullet holes were found. Four corpses were found in the cars and, according to Bolvinov, they appeared to be some of the civilians who had been in the convoy.

The remains of a 13-year old girl had been positively identified, he added.

Bolvinov gave no details about what may have happened to other vehicles in the convoy.


Leaders of G7 to meet virtually on Ukraine

President Volodymyr Zelensky is set to hold talks with G7 leaders via video conference to discuss the situation in his country.

More sanctions, or at least a tightening of current ones imposed on Russia, are expected to be discussed.


Russian deputy PM visits Mariupol

Deputy Prime Minister of Russia Marat Khusnullin says he has visited, among others, the Ukrainian city of Mariupol. Khusnullin is Russia’s most senior official to step foot in Ukraine since the war began.

“In the regions, the restoration of peaceful life begins. A lot of work to be done. We will help, in particular, it is necessary to carry out large-scale work in terms of providing humanitarian assistance!” he added.

Following relentless bombardment for nearly two months, Russia has claimed victory over the port city on April 21. However, some Ukrainian fighters are still holed up in the city’s vast Soviet-era Azovstal steelworks – the last holdout against Russian forces there.


Fighters at Azovstal plant pledge to fight till the end: Azov regiment

Armed fighters at the besieged Azovstal steel plant have pledged to continue fighting “for as long as we are alive”.

“We will continue to fight as long as we are alive to repel the Russian occupiers,” Sviatoslav Palamar, a deputy commander of Ukraine’s far-right Azov Regiment, told an online conference.

“We don’t have much time, we are coming under intense shelling,” he added.


FM says Iran opposes Ukraine war

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian has said the Ukraine crisis has no military solution, expressing Tehran’s opposition to the conflict.

Speaking at a meeting with his Polish counterpart Zbigniew Rau in Tehran on Sunday, Amir Abdollahian reaffirmed the Islamic Republic of Iran’s stance and said Tehran is opposed to war in Ukraine just as in Yemen, Iraq or anywhere else.


‘Victory will be ours’: Putin

Russian President Vladimir Putin has vowed that “as in 1945, victory will be ours” as he congratulated former Soviet nations on Victory Day.

“Today, our soldiers, as their ancestors, are fighting side by side to liberate their native land from the Nazi filth with the confidence that, as in 1945, victory will be ours,” Putin said.

“Today, it is our common duty to prevent the rebirth of Nazism which caused so much suffering to the peoples of different countries,” he stated.

He added he hoped “new generations may be worthy of the memory of their fathers and grandfathers”.


EU mulls emergency energy sharing plan in face of possible full stop of Russian supplies: Report

The European Commission is due to approve an emergency energy sharing plan on 18 May to grapple with a possible abrupt interruption of Russian gas supplies to the bloc, the Spanish newspaper El Pais has reported.

According to the news outlet, Brussels warns that in case of emergency, the plan will affect almost all EU partners of Madrid because those that have alternative sources of energy supplies, such as Spain, will have to share their gas with the countries that will be hit by Russia’s possible decision to cut gas deliveries.

The blueprint will reportedly stipulate that energy rationing should be applied in such a way that companies in unaffected EU countries could not have a competitive advantage over the firms based in the bloc’s member states that may face cuts in energy supplies.

El Pais pointed out that Brussels plans to use a 2017 regulation on the security of energy supplies in order to introduce measures that will guarantee the delivery of enough gas to households and essential social services in all EU countries.

The EU’s blueprint envisages that each affected country can declare a national emergency and impose its own rationing rules. In addition, such nations are allowed to invoke the regulation’s solidarity-related clause, which would prompt unaffected countries to help provide them with gas supplies.

El Pais reported the EU has already “embarked on a frantic race” to find alternative energy supplies. At the same time, Brussels admits that in the immediate future, “it will be practically impossible” to replace Russian gas deliveries, the newspaper argues.

According to the daily, the European Commission believes that of the 155,000 million cubic meters of gas that annually arrived from Russia, two thirds can be replaced. It means that about 50,000 million cubic meters would be missing, a figure that is tantamount to the 12-month gas consumption of Romania, Hungary, Austria, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

Earlier this week, EU Commissioner for Energy Kadri Simson urged Brussels to accelerate the deployment of renewable energy sources in a bid to resolve the issue of replacing imports of Russian gas.

“We cannot simply replace 155 bcm of Russian gas with fossil gas from other suppliers. It [is] neither sustainable nor affordable. So we need to speed [up] the deployment of renewable energy,” she stressed.


Rescue efforts underway, but likelihood of finding survivors of school bombing “very small”: Ukrainian official

A senior official in the Luhansk region has said that the chances of finding anyone still alive inside the school that was sheltering around 90 people when it was bombed by a Russian aircraft on Saturday afternoon are “very small.”

Serhiy Hayday, head of the Luhansk regional military administration, stated the school building was completely destroyed.

“The explosion happened inside the building. Rescuers [are] dismantling the debris as quickly as possible. The chances of finding [anyone still] alive are very small. There were 90 people inside the school building; 27 survived, 60 people most likely died,” he added.

The bodies of two people were found in the debris, Hayday said in a Telegram post Sunday.

A Russian aircraft dropped a bomb on the school in the village of Bilohorivka, which is about seven miles from the frontlines, according to Hayday.

The strike hit at around 4:37 p.m. local time on Saturday, causing fires to break out that took almost four hours to extinguish, he continued.

Hayday added that heavy fighting overnight had disrupted the rescue operation.

He said fighting had continued into Sunday on several fronts in Luhansk — including Bilohorivka, Voyevodivka, and Rubizhne. He also said there was an extremely difficult situation around Hirske.

Near Popasna, Russian artillery hit the house where 11 people were hiding in the basement, he said. Rescuers were dismantling the debris.

Hayday noted Ukrainian troops had withdrawn a “little way” from Popasna, adding, “Since the city was destroyed, our troops retreated to more fortified positions.”


Evil has returned to Ukraine: Zelensky

Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelensky claims evil has returned to Ukraine during an address for Victory Day, a day commemorating the formal surrender of Germany to the Allies in World War Two.

“The evil has returned. Again!” Zelenskyy said, noting, “In a different form, under different slogans, but for the same purpose.”

“No evil can escape responsibility, it cannot hide in a bunker,” he added.


Russia continues to bomb northeast region: Ukraine authorities

The Ukrainian military claims Russia continued bombarding towns and villages in the country’s northeast as it tries to gain territory along the front line.

Pavlo Kovalchuk, spokesman of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, has stated Russia shelled Prudyanka, Slatine and Tsyrkuny near Kharkiv, the country’s second-largest city.


Zelensky seeks ‘united position’ from EU on Russia sanctions

Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelensky is calling for more unity among EU countries in terms of sanctions against Russia.

“The European Union should be in a united position. They don’t have it with respect to certain sanctions. For those sanctions the European Union introduced, we are thankful to them. However, they have to be thankful to themselves because the role of Russia against Ukraine, it’s a war against the values that Ukraine defends, and these values are the values of the European Union countries,” Zelensky said in an interview with Fox News.

He also criticized the United Nations and the UN Security Council for their alleged ineffectiveness in preventing hostilities.

“I’m open to saying about that organization [UN], especially on such high level, that it doesn’t work,” Zelensky added.

In contrast, he praised the role of Washington as a strong global leader, particularly in what concerns the anti-Russia sanctions campaign.

“So far, I think that the United States of America is the accelerator of the sanction policies and I think they do more than any other country. And this is the way it should be because they are the most powerful country right now. I see the same support with respect to sanctions from the United Kingdom,” Zelensky stated.


Russians make minor advances but are under pressure around Kharkiv: Ukrainian military

Russian forces have made minor advances on one front near the city of Izium, according to the Ukrainian military, but are also on the defensive near Kharkiv as a Ukrainian counter-attack continues.

The General Staff of the Ukrainian armed forces said Sunday the Russians had captured the northern outskirts of the village of Shandryholove as they try to push south from the Izium area into the Donetsk region.

The enemy concentrated its main efforts on “preparations for the continuation of the offensive” in the area.

Along other front lines there were few changes, the General Staff announced, with the Russians using artillery against Ukrainian defenses.

In the Kharkiv area, the General Staff added that the Russians were concentrating on “preventing the further advance of our troops towards the state border of Ukraine to the north and northeast of Kharkiv.”

To that end they were shelling villages recently recaptured by Ukrainian forces — such as Prudyanka and Slatine — and trying to strengthen their defensive positions.

In the south-west of Ukraine, the armed forces said “the situation remains tense.”

They claimed that “armed formations” in the pro-Russian area of Transnistria in Moldova, as well as Russian troops there, are in full combat readiness. Transnistria, a breakaway territory within Moldova, has housed Russian troops for decades.

The General Staff confirmed clashes on Snake Island, a small island off the Romanian and Ukrainian coastline. It added that, during Saturday, one Russian Mi-28H helicopter as well as a number of drones had been destroyed by anti-aircraft missiles. The military’s Operational Command (South) later published drone video purporting to show a Russian helicopter on Snake Island being destroyed.


Russia’s Gazprom continues gas exports to Europe via Ukraine

Gas producer Gazprom has announced it was supplying natural gas to Europe via Ukraine in line with requests from European consumers.

Requests stood at 92.1 million cubic metres (mcm) for May 8 compared with 92.4 mcm on May 7.


60 people feared dead after bombing of school shelter in Ukraine

Sixty people are feared dead following an airstrike on Saturday on a school in the Luhansk region where 90 people were sheltering, according to a local official.

Serhiy Hayday, head of the Luhansk Regional Military Administration, said 30 people sheltering in the school had been rescued, of which seven were injured.

The bodies of two people were found in the debris, Hayday said in a Telegram post on Sunday, adding that it is “likely that all of the 60 people left under the building’s wreckage were killed.”

A Russian aircraft had dropped a bomb on the school in the village of Bilohorivka, which is some seven miles from the frontlines, according to Hayday.

The strike hit at around 4:37 p.m. local time on Saturday, causing fires to break out that took almost four hours to extinguish, he continued.


High casualties feared after school shelter in Ukraine bombed

Ukraine has accused Russia of dropping a bomb on a school in Luhansk region where 90 people were taking shelter.

Serhiy Hayday, the head of the Luhansk region military administration, said a Russian aircraft had dropped a bomb on the school in the village of Bilohorivka, which is about 7 miles from the front lines.

Hayday added 30 people had so far been rescued from the rubble.

“Almost the entire village was hiding. Everyone who did not evacuate. After the social club was hit, the basement of the school was the only place of salvation, but the Russians took this chance from people,” Hayday continued.

The rescue operation is ongoing, he stated.

Photographs posted by the regional authorities show the school in ruins.


UK to provide 1.3 billion pounds of additional military aid to Ukraine

The United Kingdom says it will provide 1.3 billion pounds ($1.6bn) in military support and aid to Ukraine.

The new pledge almost doubles the UK’s previous spending commitments on Ukraine and the British government announced that this is the highest rate of spending on a conflict since the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, although it did not give details of this calculation.

“Putin’s brutal attack is not only causing untold devastation in Ukraine – it is also threatening peace and security across Europe,” British Prime Minister Boris Johnson stated in a statement.


Germany to help restore water supply, rebuild houses in Ukraine

Germany has announced an aid package of 63 million euros ($66m) to help rebuild conflict-torn areas in Ukraine.

“We have boosted the immediate aid programme for Ukraine from 122 million to 185 million euros,” said German Development Minister Svenja Schulze.

“This will be used to restore the drinking water supply and rebuild destroyed apartments, schools and kindergartens,” she continued.

She added, “Where the bombs have stopped falling, Germany will assist with billions for rebuilding.”


Chechen leader claims his soldiers control Ukraine’s Popasna

Ramzan Kadyrov, the head of Russia’s republic of Chechnya, says his soldiers have taken control of most of the eastern  Ukrainian city of Popasna.

“Fighters of the Chechen special forces … have taken most of Popasna under control,” Kadyrov, who has often described himself as Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “foot soldier”, wrote in a post on the Telegram messaging app.

“The main streets and central districts of the town have been completely cleared,” he added.

Popasna is in the Luhansk region.

There was no immediate response from Ukraine, but an adviser to President Volodymyr Zelensky noted late on Saturday that heavy fighting for the town continues.

“A battle for Popasna is ongoing,” Oleksiy Arestovych said in a video on social media.

“Russian propagandists have joyfully reported that they have already taken it, but this is not quite how it is. This is their 117th ‘capture of Popasna’ claim only this week,” he added.


WHO has documented 200 attacks on health facilities in Ukraine

World Health Organisation Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has told Ukrainians that the WHO stands by them in the conflict with Russia and urged Moscow to stop waging war on its neighbour.

“My message to all the people of Ukraine is this,” he said, speaking from the government media centre in the capital Kyiv.

“WHO stands by you,” he added.

WHO Emergencies Director Mike Ryan told the same news conference that the organisation had already documented 200 attacks on healthcare facilities in Ukraine, and would pass its findings on to those who could assess whether crimes had been committed.


Zelensky: Over 300 people were saved from Azovstal plant

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky says more than 300 civilians have been rescued from the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol.

Zelenskyy stated in a late night address that authorities would now focus on a second stage of the evacuation, aimed at rescuing the wounded and medics, and work on humanitarian corridors for all residents of Mariupol and surrounding settlements.

He also added Kyiv was attempting to negotiate the evacuation of Ukrainian “defenders” from the steel mill but that it had been “extremely difficult.”

Russia’s defence ministry has also announced the completion of an operation to evacuate civilians from the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol.


Russia and Ukraine report combat near Snake Island

The Russian defense ministry claimed that its forces in the area of Snake Island off the coast of Ukraine have shot down several Ukrainian aircraft and drones.

In a briefing in Moscow, the defense ministry spokesperson, Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov, said that a Ukrainian Su-24 bomber, a Su-27 fighter aircraft, three Mi-8 helicopters with a landing force and two Turkish-made attack drones had been shot down.

“The Ukrainian amphibious assault boat Stanislav has also been destroyed,” he added.

The ministry posted a video purporting to show Russian air defenses on Snake Island bringing down a drone.

Earlier, the Ukrainian military also reported combat around Snake Island but did not comment on any losses. It released drone footage which, it said, showed its forces destroying a Russian landing craft on the island. It said that two anti-aircraft missile systems had also been hit.

Snake Island is where, early on in the war, Ukrainian soldiers reacted with words of defiance against Russian attackers. According to a purported audio exchange, a Russian officer told the Ukrainians to lay down their arms, but a soldier responded: “Russian warship, go f*** yourself.” All 13 Ukrainian defenders were at first believed to have been killed; it was later revealed that they were alive but had to surrender due to lack of ammunition.

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