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Russia claims to have taken full control of Mariupol

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Russia claims to have taken full control of Mariupol

By ELENA BECATOROS, OLEKSANDR STASHEVSKYI and CIARAN McQUILLAN

POKROVSK, Ukraine (AP) — Russia’s defense chief says the country’s forces have taken full control of the steel plant in Mariupol that was the last stronghold of Ukrainian resistance in the city.

That would mark the end of a nearly three-month siege that reduced much of Mariupol to ruins and left over 20,000 people feared dead.

Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu reported to President Vladimir Putin on Friday that the Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol has been “completely liberated” from Ukrainian fighters.

There is no immediate confirmation from Ukraine.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier story follows below.

POKROVSK, Ukraine (AP) — The West moved to pour billions more in aid into Ukraine on Friday, as Russia shifted troops freed up by the imminent fall of the pulverized city of Mariupol and fighting raged in the country’s industrial heartland in the east.

Russian forces shelled a vital highway and kept up attacks on a key city in the Luhansk region, hitting a school among other sites, Ukrainian authorities said. Luhansk is part of the Donbas, the mostly Russian-speaking eastern expanse of coal mines and factories that Russian President Vladimir Putin is bent on capturing.

“The liberation of the Luhansk People’s Republic is nearing completion,” Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu declared, referring to the breakaway state proclaimed by pro-Moscow separatists in 2014 and recognized by the Kremlin.

In Mariupol, the strategic port in the southern corner of the Donbas, Russian troops worn down by their nearly three-month siege of the city may not get the time they need to regroup, Britain’s Defense Ministry said.

With the battle winding down for the Azovstal steel plant that represented the last bastion of Ukrainian resistance in Mariupol, Russia is continuing to pull back forces there, and their commanders are under pressure to quickly send them elsewhere in the Donbas, according to the British.

“That means that Russia will probably redistribute their forces swiftly without adequate preparation, which risks further force attrition,” the ministry said.

An undisclosed number of Ukrainian soldiers remained at the Azovstal steel plant. Russia said more than 1,900 had surrendered in recent days. Also remaining at the plant were the bodies of soldiers who defended it while tying down Russian forces.

Denis Prokopenko, commander of the Azov Regiment, which led the defense of the plant, called them “fallen heroes.”

“I hope soon relatives and the whole of Ukraine will be able to bury the fighters with honors,” he said.

Wives of fighters who held out at the steelworks spoke emotionally about what may have been their last contact with their husbands.

Olga Boiko, wife of a marine, wiped away tears as she said that her husband had written her on Thursday: “Hello. We surrender, I don’t know when I will get in touch with you and if I will at all. Love you. Kiss you. Bye.”

Natalia Zaritskaya, wife of another fighter at Azovstal, said that based on the messages she had seen over the past two days, “Now they are on the path from hell to hell. Every inch of this path is deadly.”

She said that two days ago, her husband reported that of the 32 soldiers with whom he had served, only eight survived, most of them seriously wounded.

In other developments:

— The Group of Seven major economies and global financial institutions agreed to provide more money to bolster Ukraine’s finances, bringing the total to $19.8 billion. In the U.S., President Joe Biden was expected to sign a $40 billion package of military and economic aid to Ukraine and its allies.

— Russia will cut off natural gas to Finland on Saturday, the Finnish state energy company said, just days after Finland applied to join NATO. Finland had refused Moscow’s demand that it pay for gas in rubles. The cutoff is not expected to have any major immediate effect. Natural gas accounted for just 6% of Finland’s total energy consumption in 2020, Finnish broadcaster YLE said.

— A captured Russian soldier accused of killing a civilian awaited his fate in Ukraine’s first war crimes trial. Sgt. Vadim Shishimarin, 21, could get life in prison.

Meanwhile, fighting intensified deeper in the Donbas.

Serhiy Haidai, the governor of Luhansk, said Russian forces were especially focused on the Lysychansk-Bakhmut highway, the only road for evacuating people and delivering humanitarian supplies.

“The road is extremely important because it’s the only connection to other regions of the country,” he said via email. “The Russians are trying to cut us off from it, to encircle the Luhansk region.”

Russian forces shelled the road constantly from multiple directions, but Ukrainian armored transports were still able to get through, Haidai added.

Moscow’s troops have been trying for weeks to seize Severodonetsk, a key city in the Donbas. One of Friday’s attacks was on a school in Severodonetsk that was sheltering more than 200 people, many of them children, Haidai said. Three adults were killed, he said on Telegram.

Twelve people were killed in Severodonetsk, Haidai said. It was not immediately clear if that included the three at the school. In addition, more than 60 houses were destroyed across the region, he added.

Russian forces now control 90 percent of Luhansk, but the attack on Severodonetsk failed — “the Russians suffered personnel losses and retreated,” Haidai said. His account could not be independently verified.

Another city, Rubizhne, has been “completely destroyed,” Haidai said. “Its fate can be compared to that of Mariupol.”

Pro-Moscow separatists have fought Ukrainian forces in the Donbas for the past eight years and held a considerable swath of it before Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion. But the effort by Putin’s troops to take more territory there has been slow-going.

In a sign of Russia’s frustration with the war, some senior commanders have been fired in recent weeks, Britain’s Defense Ministry said.

Russian forces elsewhere in Ukraine continued to blast away at targets, some of them civilian.

In the village of Velyka Kostromka, west of the Donbas, explosions in the middle of the night Thursday shook Iryna Martsyniuk’s house to its foundations. Roof timbers splintered and windows shattered, sending shards of glass into a wall near three sleeping children.

“There were flashes everywhere,” she said. “There was smoke everywhere.” She grabbed the children and ran toward the home’s entrance, “but the corridor wasn’t there anymore. Instead, we saw the starry night.”

They ran down the road to a neighbor’s home, where they hid in the basement.

Around 20 other houses were damaged and two people were lightly wounded, said Olha Shaytanova, head of the village.

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McQuillan reported from Lviv. Stashevskyi reported from Kyiv. Associated Press journalists Yuras Karmanau in Lviv, Andrea Rosa in Kharkiv, Jamey Keaten in Geneva and other AP staffers around the world contributed.

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Gunman kills 2 during Oslo Pride festival; terror suspected

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Gunman kills 2 during Oslo Pride festival; terror suspected

OSLO, Norway — A gunman opened fire in Oslo’s night-life district early Saturday, killing two people and leaving more than 20 wounded in what Norwegian security service called an “Islamist terror act” during the capital’s annual Pride festival.

Investigators said the suspect, identified as a 42-year-old Norwegian citizen originally from Iran, was arrested after opening fire at three locations in downtown Oslo.

The PST security service raised its terror alert level from “moderate” to “extraordinary” — the highest level — after the attack, which sent panicked revelers fleeing into the streets or trying to hide from the gunman.

PST acting chief Roger Berg called the attack an “extreme Islamist terror act” and said the suspect had a “long history of violence and threats” as well as mental health issues.

He said PST first became aware of the suspect in 2015 and later became concerned that he had become radicalized and was part of an unspecified Islamist network.

Upon the advice of police, organizers canceled a Pride parade that was set for Saturday as the highlight of a weeklong festival. Scores of people marched through the capital anyway, waving rainbow flags.

One of the shootings happened outside the London Pub, a bar popular with the city’s LGBTQ community, just hours before the parade was set to begin.

Police attorney Christian Hatlo said the suspect was being held on suspicion of murder, attempted murder and terrorism, based on the number of people targeted at multiple locations.

“Our overall assessment is that there are grounds to believe that he wanted to cause grave fear in the population,” Hatlo said.

Police said two of the shooting victims died and 10 people were being treated for serious injuries, but none of them was believed to be in life-threatening condition. Eleven other people had minor injuries.

Olav Roenneberg, a journalist from Norwegian public broadcaster NRK, said he witnessed the shooting.

“I saw a man arrive at the site with a bag. He picked up a weapon and started shooting,” Roenneberg told NRK. “First I thought it was an air gun. Then the glass of the bar next door was shattered and I understood I had to run for cover.”

Another witness, Marcus Nybakken, 46, said he saw a lot of people running and screaming and thought it was a fist fight.

“But then I heard that it was a shooting and that there was someone shooting with a submachine gun,” Nybakken told Norwegian broadcaster TV2.

Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere said in a Facebook post that “the shooting outside London Pub in Oslo tonight was a cruel and deeply shocking attack on innocent people.”

He said that while the motive was unclear, the shooting had caused fear and grief in the LGBTQ community.

“We all stand by you,” Gahr Stoere wrote.

Christian Bredeli, who was at the bar, told Norwegian newspaper VG that he hid on the fourth floor with a group of about 10 people until he was told it was safe to come out.

“Many were fearing for their lives,” he said. “On our way out we saw several injured people, so we understood that something serious had happened.”

TV2 showed footage of people running down Oslo streets in panic as shots rang out in the background.

Investigators said the suspect was known to police, as well as to PST, but not for any major violent crimes. His criminal record included a narcotics offense and a weapons offense for carrying a knife, Hatlo said.

Hatlo said police seized two weapons after the attack: a handgun and an automatic weapon, both of which he described as “not modern” without giving details.

He said the suspect had not made any statement to the police and was in contact with a defense lawyer.

Hatlo said it was too early to say whether the gunman specifically targeted members of the LGBTQ community.

“We have to look closer at that, we don’t know yet,” he said.

Still, police advised organizers of the Pride festival to cancel the parade Saturday.

“Oslo Pride therefore urges everyone who planned to participate or watch the parade to not show up. All events in connection with Oslo Prides are canceled,” organizers said on the official Facebook page of the event.

Inge Alexander Gjestvang, leader of FRI, the Norwegian organisation for sexual and gender diversity, said the shooting has shaken the Nordic country’s LGBTQ community.

“We encourage everyone to stand together, take care of each other. We’ll be back later, proud, visible but right now it’s not the time for that,” he told TV2.

King Harald V offered condolences to the relatives of victims and said the royal family was “horrified” by the attack.

“We must stand together to defend our values: freedom, diversity and respect for each other. We must continue to stand up for all people to feel safe,” the monarch said.

Norway has a relatively low crime rate but has experienced violent attacks by right-wing extremists, including one of the worst mass shootings in Europe in 2011, when a gunman killed 69 people on the island of Utoya after setting off a bomb in Oslo that left eight dead.

In 2019, another right-wing extremist killed his stepsister and then opened fire in a mosque but was overpowered before anyone there was injured.

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Ritter reported from Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany. Jari Tanner in Helsinki contributed to this report.

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Readers & Writers: Choices for young readers for Pride Month

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Readers & Writers: Choices for young readers for Pride Month

It’s the last Sunday of Pride Month, so we’re closing the observance with a young adult gay boys’ rom-com and picture books about children with same-sex parents or grandparents.

“A Little Bit Country” by Brian D. Kennedy (HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray, $17.99)

The words are stuck in my throat. I know how badly Emmett wants to hear them. But I can’t bring myself to say them. Because I’m not sure if they’re true. I like Emmett a lot. More than I ever thought possible. But I can count the number of people I’ve said ‘I love you’ to on one hand. and they’re all family, so I didn’t really have a choice in the matter … With Emmett, love feels too scary.”

This gentle debut by an author who grew up in St. Paul and Mendota Heights is an easy, enjoyable summer read that’s as much a mystery as a story about  Emmett and Luke, who can’t ignore their attraction to one another.

Emmett is from Oak Park, Ill., and can’t wait to get away from home to work for a summer at Wanda World, owned by his country music idol Wanda Jean. (The author admits on his website that one of his “slightly unhealthy obsessions is all things Dolly Parton.”) Emmett hopes his summer as a performer at the amusement park will be the first step in his goal to become country music’s first gay superstar.

Luke, who lives in the Wanda World’s town of Jackson Hollow, Tenn., is weighed down with family obligations and believes he cannot come out as gay because his mother would never forgive him. He hates country music because something happened between his grandmother and Wanda years earlier, and Luke believes that destroyed his family.

The two young men are not sure where their relationship is going since their goals are so different. Emmett urges Luke to come out, but Luke isn’t ready. Still, they meet secretly in Wanda World, amidst the sweet carnival smells and sounds of people having fun. (There is no overt sex in the narrative and it’s handled so delicately even would-be censors won’t find a reason to clutch their pearls.)

After the men discover a stash of songs hidden by Luke’s grandmother, their feelings about country music have to be revised because it seems Wanda Jean might be living a lie.

Kennedy, who lives in New York City with his husband and photogenic dog, will be in person at the Red Balloon Bookshop, 891 Grand Ave., at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, June 29, to sign books and talk about his novel with guest author Emily J. Taylor. There’ll be special launch party favors at this free program. Space is limited so a ticket is required. Register through June 29, 4:30 p.m., at redballoonbookshop.com. Face coverings are required.

PICTURE BOOKS

“Katy Has two Grampas” by Julie Schanke Lyford and Robert A. Schanke, art by Mariia Luzina (Wise Ink, $18.95)

Book jacket for "Katy Has Two Grampas"

Katy is excited about grandparents day at her school, because she has two grandpas. But she lisps, so she hardly ever talks. Grandpa Bob and Grandpa Jack are two of her favorite people. But when the teacher asks the children to talk about their grandparents, she can’t understand what Katy is saying because of her lisp, and she thinks the little girl is talking about a grandma and a grandpa. Katy’s big sister takes her to the teacher, who is so sorry she made a mistake. But Katy is still worried. The kids are supposed to introduce their grandparents in front of the class and she’s afraid everyone will laugh at her speech impediment. But when she sees all the different kinds of grandmas and grandpas, she’s proud to introduce her grandpas: “They’re married … TO EACH OTHER.” Her classmates clap and Katy laughs.

This happy book, with bright, energetic illustrations, is written by a father-daughter team. Julie Lyford lives in the Twin Cities with her husband and two daughters and is an LGBTQ+ activist. She and her book were highlighted in a Feb. 21 Publishers Weekly article crediting her with persuading Amazon to create its new LGBTQ+ Families children’s book category.

Robert Schanke is a retired college theater professor who lives in Des Moines, Iowa, with his husband of 34 years. His books have been finalists for the Lambda Literary Award.

“Love, Violet” words by Charlotte Sullivan Wild, pictures by Charlene Chua (Farrar Straus Giroux, $18.99)

Book jacket for "Love, Violet"

Violet, who always wears a hat that’s a cross between a fedora and a cowboy hat, is left speechless by Mira, the girl with the cheery laugh. Violet wants to adventure with Mira, but whenever Violet wants to tell the girl how she feels, she gets shy. When Valentine’s Day approaches, Violet makes a special valentine for Mira, but the wind sweeps it away. When Violet makes an angel in the snow, and falls down, the other kids laugh at her. But Mira doesn’t. Instead, she hands a locket to Violet with a tiny violet inside. And the girls go off adventuring — together.

Charlotte Wilds Sullivan, a Minneapolis native with an MFA from Hamline University,  wrote most of this book in the Twin Cities with the support of community organizations and Minnesota grants. She blogs that she was a kid like Violet, with crushes on other girls.

Molly B. Ellis, executive director of publicity for Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group, says this is one of the first picture books by a major publisher to portray a queer crush between girls.

“Mama and Mommy and Me in the Middle” by Nina LaCour, illustrated by Kaylani Juanita (Candlewick Press, $17.99)

Book jacket for "Mama and Mommy and Me in the Middle"

Mommy is African-American, Mama is white, and the unnamed little narrator is in the middle, especially during hugs and at mealtime. The story is set during a week when Mommy is away on business and Mama and the narrator miss her a lot. There are phone calls during which they express their love for one another, and when the narrator feels too sad Mama takes her on her lap and says they can be sad together. Then, there’s cleaning and putting up a Welcome Home sign, and Mommy is back with the narrator where she belongs — in the middle. The writer and illustrator live in California.

“Some Daddies” by Carol Gordon Ekster, illustrated by Javiera Maclean Alvarez (Beaming Books, $17.99)

Book jacket for "Some Daddies"

Dads of all persuasions, gay and straight, sing, read, play, work and love their kids in this book for the very youngest readers. The message: “Every daddy is different. And every child is too.” The publisher is based in Minneapolis. The author is a former elementary school teacher who lives in Massachusetts and the illustrator is Chilean.

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Ira Winderman: NBA free-agency period more about trade season for Heat

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Ira Winderman: NBA free-agency period more about trade season for Heat

The most pressing question when it comes to Friday’s start of NBA free agency is . . . why?

Arguably, with scant few exceptions, this year there is no there there.

Yes, Bradley Beal will at least create the impression that he will explore options. Then he will re-sign with the Washington Wizards. All signs point in that direction.

Yes, Deandre Ayton is the rare restricted free agent who could actually leave via an offer sheet. But even then, it appears there are few dance partners, particularly with the draft approach taken by the cap-flush Detroit Pistons.

Yes, the New York Knicks will attempt to wildly overspend on Jalen Brunson, but even that will require additional cap gymnastics.

And can the Chicago Bulls actually afford to allow Zach LaVine to bolt after he was the linchpin of the (still-painful) trade of Jimmy Butler?

Otherwise, there are some intriguing names on the free-agent list, but also players whose ties are so strong to their current teams that the start of free agency merely should provide a rubber stamp, such as Kevon Looney with the Golden State Warriors, Anfernee Simmons with the Portland Trail Blazers, Bobby Portis with the Milwaukee Bucks and, seemingly (although when it comes to cash no one knows with Michael Jordan) Miles Bridges with the Charlotte Hornets.

Beyond that, only the Pistons, Orlando Magic, Indiana Pacers, San Antonio Spurs (and perhaps Knicks) have workable cap space above the $10.3 million mid-level salary-cap exception (and even then 12 teams don’t even have that because of their standing against the luxury tax).

So if the Miami Heat, or most teams, hope to make a splash during what is termed free agency but actually is the transaction period, trades likely will be the path.

As it was for Pat Riley’s front office in 2019 for Butler.

As it was last summer for the Heat with Kyle Lowry.

Essentially, we’re likely talking about the Summer of the Mid-Level Exception.

Because when you look at the free-agent list, beyond the aforementioned Beal, Ayton, LaVine, Brunson, and even Looney, Simons, Portis and Bridges, there otherwise are little more than complementary components.

How limited? The next tier appears to be Bruce Brown, P.J. Tucker, T.J. Warren, Gary Harris, Mitchell Robinson, Gary Payton II, Otto Porter Jr., Kyle Anderson, Malik Monk, Thaddeus Young, Chris Boucher, Victor Oladipo, Nicolas Batum, Delon Wright, Joe Ingles, Mo Bamba, Derrick Jones Jr., Dennis Schroder, Caleb Martin and Cody Martin.

Hardly transformative.

As far as free agency and the Heat, this summer could be something closer to James Johnson-Dion Waiters-Wayne Ellington (2016) or Avery Bradley-Maurice Harkless (2020).

Perhaps a pitch to Young as a replacement (if needed) for Tucker. Perhaps Ingles as an Oladipo-type low-cost rehab project.

Otherwise, the real list for the Heat might not be the free-agent list at all, but rather the intel of who might be available in trades, as well as the potential costs.

The chips are there: Duncan Robinson as cap filler, Tyler Herro as an intriguing prospect, and 2023 and 2028 first-round picks that could be put into play.

A splash is still possible, because it seemingly always is possible when it comes to Riley.

But this summer, perhaps even this coming week, it likely will be about more than getting a name signed on the dotted line. Instead, an upgrade likely will have to come through tricks of the trade.

Forget the start of free agency. This summer, it looks like the trade market will hold the greatest sway.

IN THE LANE

EVOLVING WINDOW: When it comes to a potential Philadelphia 76ers move for the Heat’s Tucker in free agency, keep an eye on two names: Matisse Thybulle and Furkan Korkmoz. If the 76ers can do something to shed those contracts, they could move below the luxury-tax line to make a three-year, $33 million offer to Tucker built off the non-taxpayer $10.3 million mid-level exception, trumping the $27 million the Heat could comfortably pay over that term without touching exception money. However, with Philadelphia’s draft-night move for De’Anthony Melton, it seemingly takes the 76ers out of play with the full mid-level and therefore seemingly out of play for Tucker, left instead with the taxpayer $6.4 million mid-level exception. The Heat, without touching their mid-level exception, could start a new Tucker contract at $8.4 million for next season.

BEASLEY’S BACK: Back playing competitively on U.S. soil for the first time since he was traded by the Los Angeles Lakers midway through the 2018-19 season, former Heat first-round pick Michael Beasley had quite the debut last week in the Big3 halfcourt circuit, including a pair of 4-point shots (from a circle set up near midcourt). Playing for the 3′s Company team captained by former Heat guard Mario Chalmers, Beasley closed with 26 points in the first-team-to-50 game format. The 50-47 victory was sealed by a winning basket from Chalmers, who briefly was with the Heat on a 10-day contract this past season (albeit not seeing action). The Beasley-Chalmers win came despite 26 points in opposition from former Heat guard Gerald Green.

NEXT TASK: With a goal of incorporating more mid-range shots into his game, Heat guard Gabe Vincent said he already has his offseason study guide. “There are two guys in this league that are really good and are on the same team. Chris Paul and Devin Booker have been great at it,” Vincent said during a visit to the Heat’s youth summer camp. “Obviously, DeMar [DeRozan], it’s part of his game now. [Carmelo Anthony] made a career off of it. But I think Chris Paul might be one of those guys that’s just a specialist in the pick-and-roll, a legend of this game. He uses it to his advantage to keep the defense honest. You go back and watch older film of Gilbert Arenas, those guys could always get to the elbows in an iso situation and get a shot up. So the play is there.”

CONTRASTING VIEW: While it appears Beal will take his maximum payoff from the Wizards in free agency, at least one NBA legend thinks it’s a mistake, especially with a potential suitor such as the Heat out there. “Miami would be a very dangerous team and possibly even win a championship with Bradley Beal along with Jimmy Butler and what they have down there. Just a phenomenal player and that’d be perfect,” Tracy McGrady told NBC Sports Washington. “I’m just telling you the truth. He’s been faithful to the Wizards, man. It’s time for him to play for a championship.”

YOUTH SERVED: With the 2022-23 regular season scheduled to start on Oct. 18 and with Heat first-round pick Nikola Jovik born on June 9, 2003, he stands to become the youngest Heat player in the franchise’s 35 seasons. The previous youngest: Justise Winslow, 19 years, 216 days, with MNA regular-season debut on Oct. 28, 2015 vs. Charlotte; Herro, 19 years, 276 days, on Oct. 23, 2019 vs. Memphis; Beasley, 19 years, 294 days, on Oct. 29, 2008 at New York; and Dorell Wright, 19 years, 335 days, Nov. 2, 2005 at Memphis.

NUMBER

5. Heat number issued to Jovic. The number previously has been worn with the Heat by Eric Murdock, Sasha Danilovic, Mark Strickland, Eddie House, Keyon Dooling, Derek Anderson, Marcus Banks, Quentin Richardson, Juwan Howard, Henry Walker, Amar’e Stoudemire, Luke Babbitt, Derrick Jones, Jr., Kyle Guy, and the Heat’s previous first-round pick, Precious Achiuwa.

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