TIME viral

Watch an Unbelievable Dust Storm Turn Belarus Into Tatooine

This is terrifying

An incredible video has surfaced of a bizarre weather phenomenon that, within a matter of minutes, transformed day into night in the Belarus city of Soligorsk on Monday.

Thankfully, while property damage was reported in the region, nobody was injured during the storm, says the Russian news outlet RT.

A cold front near the border with Ukraine created the epic dust storm called a “haboob,” which is rare in the region at this time of year. What’s more, the storm also included heavy rain.

It appears Mother Nature reminded us that science fiction may not be so outlandish after all.

Read next: How a Dust Storm Inspired a Mass Exodus and a Great Novel

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME Ukraine

Ukrainian Ally of Ousted President Found Dead

Oleg Kalashnikov in Kiev, Ukraine in 2013.
Vladimir Donsov—AP Oleg Kalashnikov in Kiev in 2013.

Eight other allies of Viktor Yanukovich have had sudden deaths in the last year

A former member of the Ukrainian parliament who opposed the popular movement that ousted President Viktor Yanukovich was found dead with gunshot wounds in Kiev.

The Ukrainian Interior Ministry said in a statement that the body of Oleg Kalashnikov, 52, was discovered Wednesday evening.

Kalashnikov was involved in the “anti-Maidan” protests in support of Yanukovych, who fled in February 2014. According to the BBC, at least eight Yanukovych allies have died in the last three months; most of the deaths have been deemed suicides.

[Reuters]

TIME Ukraine

Fighting in Eastern Ukraine Rages On Overnight Despite Talks

German, French, Russian And Ukrainian Foreign Ministers Meet In Berlin
Henning Schacht—Pool/Getty Images From left, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov pose before their meeting at Villa Borsig in Berlin on April 13, 2015

Fighting rages on at the obliterated Donetsk airport and the southern village of Shyrokyne despite talks between Russia and Ukraine

(DONETSK, Ukraine) — Fighting raged overnight and in the early hours on Tuesday on the outskirts of the rebel stronghold of Donetsk in eastern Ukraine despite an agreement reached by the Ukrainian and Russian foreign ministers a day earlier.

The yearlong military conflict between Russian-backed rebels and government forces has claimed more than 6,000 lives and left large parts of Ukraine’s once industrial heartland in ruins.

Fighting in the east had largely subsided following a cease-fire deal signed in February but has rekindled in recent days.

Heavy shelling was heard in Donetsk late Monday evening and in the early hours on Tuesday. In the morning, rebel mouthpiece Donetsk News Agency reported one rebel fighter dead and five wounded in the overnight clashes.

Russia and Ukraine agreed in Berlin on Monday to call for the pullback of smaller-caliber weapons from the front lines of the conflict that has claimed more than 6,000 lives.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who hosted the talks in Berlin, said the new deal calls for the withdrawal of mortars and heavy weapons below 100 mm (3.94 inches) caliber, as well as all types of tanks.

On the ground, however, even the previous agreement that called for a cease-fire and a withdrawal of large-caliber weaponry appeared to be shaky.

Fighting appears to be focused on the now-obliterated Donetsk airport and the village of Shyrokyne by the Azov Sea in the south.

An Associated Press reporter saw a column of at least 10 infantry combat vehicles moving Tuesday morning from the rebel-occupied area by the Azov Sea to Donetsk.

TIME Ukraine

Russia, Ukraine Agree on Withdrawal of Smaller-Caliber Arms

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, from left, in Berlin on April 13, 2015
Clemens Bilan—AP French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, from left, in Berlin on April 13, 2015

The new deal calls for the withdrawal of mortars, tanks and heavy weapons below 3.94 in. caliber

(BERLIN) — Russia and Ukraine agreed Monday to call for the pullback of smaller caliber weapons from the front lines in eastern Ukraine as part of a fresh push to end the region’s yearlong conflict.

Foreign ministers from the two countries — meeting with their French and German counterparts in Berlin — also agreed to support international monitors and establish four working groups to address the most pressing issues faced by people in the embattled region, where Russian-backed separatists are fighting Ukrainian government forces.

The meeting took place amid fresh clashes in the Donetsk area and near the village of Shyrokyne, by the Azov Sea.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who hosted the meeting, insisted afterward that the parties had no alternative but to abide by agreements forged in the Belarusian capital Minsk in February and September.

“Everyone knows that we have a long path ahead of us,” Steinmeier told reporters shortly after midnight. “But we’re going to do everything we can to continue this process.”

He said the new deal calls for the withdrawal of mortars and heavy weapons below 100 mm (3.94 inches) caliber, as well as all types of tanks.

Steinmeier said the four diplomats also agreed on the need to quickly establish four working groups to address security issues; the process for holding a local election in rebel-occupied areas; restart the exchange of prisoners of war; and improve the dire economic situation in eastern Ukraine.

Speaking to Russian media after the talks, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said the parties were unable to agree on Ukraine’s demands for the deployment of peacekeepers.

He also criticized laws passed recently by the Ukrainian parliament, which he said were eroding the Minsk deal.

“We underlined the need to fulfill the Minsk agreements in their entirety, not just in the military segment, but also in political, economic and humanitarian spheres,” Lavrov said, according to Russian news agencies.

TIME Ukraine

Meet the Pro-Russian ‘Partisans’ Waging a Bombing Campaign in Ukraine

Ukrainian police and forensic experts examine the wreckage of a mini-bus after explosion, in Kharkov, March 6, 2015.
Sergei Kozlov—EPA Ukrainian police and forensic experts examine the wreckage of a mini-bus after explosion, in Kharkov, March 6, 2015.

Their tactics mark a turn toward terrorism in Ukraine's year-old war

Soon after midnight on April 1, a separatist group calling itself the Kharkov Partisans issued another one of its video warnings to the Ukrainian government. It claimed that within the next 48 hours a bomb would explode far behind the front lines of the war in eastern Ukraine. “As of now, the earth will begin to burn beneath your feet,” said the group’s spokesman, Filipp Ekozyants, in the message to Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko and his top security officials.

Sure enough, the bomb arrived. Though reports have been conflicting as to the damage it caused, a large explosion rang out in the southwestern part of Kharkov, Ukraine’s second largest city, within 24 hours of the Partisans’ threat. Police denied that any bombing had occurred that night, though that seems to be part of a cover up. “The explosion did take place,” says Andriy Sanin, the head of the local branch of Right Sector, a nationalist paramilitary group that works in league with Ukraine’s armed forces. “It appears to have been an act of intimidation,” he says, declining to give further details. In a follow-up video on April 3, the Partisans claimed that the attack had targeted a military convoy, killing a dozen Ukrainian servicemen.

But whatever the details of that bombing, it would hardly have been the first attack attributed to this guerrilla group. In interviews with TIME over the past two months, the group’s spokesman, a former wedding singer now based in western Russia, has claimed responsibility for a spate of bombings, mostly targeting military and industrial installations in the region of Kharkov, which lies right on the border with Russia. “Our goal is to liberate the people of Kharkov,” Ekozyants says in the first of several interviews. “And we will fight until the current authorities are weak enough to allow this.”

Numbering more than a dozen in the past few months alone, the bombings in Kharkov and other cities have marked a grim turn in Ukraine’s year-old conflict. The Russian-backed separatists in Ukraine’s eastern regions have managed to seize control of two major cities and large chunks of the border with Russia. But they are clearly not satisfied with the extent of their possessions. Even amid the ceasefire that Russian President Vladimir Putin negotiated and signed with President Poroshenko in February, the bombing of Ukraine’s cities has only intensified. The war now seems to be shifting from the use of tanks and artillery to the methods of terrorism and guerrilla warfare.

The goal of these attacks, says Ekozyants, is to paralyze the Ukrainian authorities and inspire locals to join a separatist revolt against them. But there seems to be some debate within his organization about the admissible means of achieving this. About two hours before Ekozyants issued his warning on April 1, he told TIME that the November bombing of a crowded bar in Kharkov was the work of a radical cell of the Partisans. Eight people were wounded in that bombing, two of them critically.

From their bases in Russia and the rebel-held cities in eastern Ukraine, the more moderate leaders of the Partisans then issued a ban on attacking civilians, in part to avoid a popular backlash against their methods, says Ekozyants. “After what happened at [the bar], our coordinating council issued a directive to all our cells, saying any more actions in places where there are peaceful people will be punished by lethal means.”

But the lethality of the bombings in Kharkov have still continued to increase. The deadliest confirmed attack struck on a religious holiday, Forgiveness Sunday, Feb. 22, the day in Eastern Orthodox tradition when believers are meant to repent for their sins. It was also the day when many in Ukraine marked the one-year anniversary of their country’s revolution, which brought a pro-Western government to power last winter. Sanin, the local paramilitary leader, was leading a march of commemoration that afternoon through Kharkov, and as his column set out through the city, an anti-personnel mine exploded at the side of the road, sending a shockwave full of shrapnel into the crowd. Four people were fatally wounded, including two teenage boys, and nine others were hospitalized.

“In the first seconds there was panic,” Sanin recalls. “Everyone was screaming, running, and there was a real risk that the victims would get trampled where they lay.” Sanin appears to have been one of targets of the attack, but he escaped with minor injuries.

A few days later, Ukraine’s state security service, the SBU, released what it claimed to be a video of the bomber’s confession. Because his face in the footage is blurred and his name has not been released, it has been impossible to verify the authenticity of the SBU’s claims, which have not always been reliable. In a monotonous patter, the alleged confessor claims that an agent of the Russian security services paid him $10,000 to carry out the bombing on Forgiveness Sunday.

For his part, Ekozyants denies that the Kharkov Partisans had anything to do with that attack. But some of his allies in the rebel movement still believe the bombing was justified. “There were no accidental victims there at that march,” says Konstantin Dolgov, a leading pro-Russian separatist in Ukraine. “They were all the same people who were fueling a big civil war in Ukraine. They were calling for the death of Russians, of Russian-speakers,” says Dolgov, who denies any involvement in that bombing. After a pause, he adds: “There’s a good Russian saying: You sow the wind, you reap the storm. And the storm caught up with them during that march.”

Having started his career a decade ago as an adviser to a pro-Russian governor of Kharkov, Dolgov has emerged as a one of the main links between Moscow and the separatists in eastern Ukraine. He now splits his time between the Russian capital and the rebel stronghold of Donetsk, and he is living proof that the separatists’ ambitions in Ukraine go far beyond the territories they currently control. Russia seems to support his message. On Kremlin-owned television channels, he is a fixture on political talk shows, frequently cast as the benevolent face of Ukrainian separatism.

One afternoon in March, he agreed to meet me at a restaurant in Moscow across the street from the offices of the Russian Presidential Administration, where he sat in a pressed suit with a little separatist flag pinned to his lapel. Despite the resistance of Ukrainian authorities, he claims it is only a matter of time before Kharkov falls to the separatists. “But the liberation is only possible from the outside at this point,” he says. All the local separatists in Kharkov have been jailed or forced to flee the city. So there are now “at least 1,500 men” from Kharkov fighting in various rebel factions in other parts of eastern Ukraine, he says. “They all hope to return home and take revenge for their murdered comrades.”

Ekozyants, who calls Dolgov a close associate, takes a somewhat different view. Through the bombing campaigns of the Partisans, he believes the Ukrainian authorities can be weakened from within, allowing the local separatists to organize an uprising in the city. “All we want is to create a government of Kharkov that will listen to the people,” he says. The ultimate aim is for the city to hold a referendum on secession from Ukraine, much as the region of Crimea did last spring before it was annexed into Russia. “If a majority of people in Kharkov vote to join up with Burkina Faso, then we will join Burkina Faso,” Ekozyants says. “But let the people decide.”

His success as a mouthpiece for separatism in Kharkov derives in part from his earlier fame. Long before the war in Ukraine broke out last spring, Ekozyants was well known in the city as a composer and singer of maudlin ballads, which he would often perform at local weddings and banquets. (“Eternal love, we live to blindly love,” went one of the refrains in his music video from 2009.) The showmanship has since become a hallmark of his propaganda, which is laced with moody, anti-Semitic diatribes against the “shameless yids” seizing power in Ukraine with help from the West.

In late February, when TIME first contacted him for an interview, he replied by sending back a theatrical nine-minute video – “an address to the American people” – warning of an apocalyptic war that would turn U.S. cities into “giant ruins” if Washington does not withdraw its support for the Ukrainian government. When pressed to comment beyond such bravado, he invited a reporter to visit him in the western Russian city of Ryazan, but backed out at the last minute and only agreed to talk via Skype.

In subsequent interviews, he says most of the financial support for the Kharkov Partisans comes from sympathetic businessmen living in Russia, who transfer funds into his bank account. Asked whether the Partisans receive support from the Russian military or security services, he says some Russian state support does come through the rebel leadership in Donetsk. “We don’t just cooperate,” Ekozyants says of that separatist stronghold. “We are one network. We are the same.”

And Russia clearly tolerates their activities on its territory. The bank account Ekozyants uses to gather donations is at a branch of state-controlled Sberbank, Russia’s biggest lender, in the western Russian city of Rostov. In his spare time, Ekozyants says he still earns extra money singing at banquets in Russia, and he also seems to have access to a television studio in one of the Russian cities where he operates.

In late March, he posted a video of himself in a studio interviewing Igor Girkin, a former agent of the Russian security services who led the separatist militias in their conquest of Ukrainian territory last year. The two of them muse for an hour about the future of the “Russian world,” which they see extending across much of Ukraine. The Russian government, Girkin says, has been too indecisive in pursuing its imperial destiny in these borderlands. “But I always felt that God realizes his will through individuals,” he says. Even when those individuals are prepared to set off bombs in peaceful cities.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: April 7

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. It’s time to give up the uniquely American institution of the network anchorman.

By Frank Rich in New York magazine

2. On Billie Holiday’s 100th birthday, her “spiritual endowment” endures.

By Wynton Marsalis in Time

3. How to save crowdfunding from scammers and flakes.

By Klint Finley in Wired

4. Here’s how Putin could lose power.

By Amanda Taub in Vox

5. What if the secret to racial harmony is more uplifting internet videos?

By Katie Jacobs at Penn State News

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: April 6

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. A new program will recruit and train inspiring leaders to be principals at high-poverty schools. No education background required.

By Catherine Candisky in the Columbus Dispatch

2. Even with rising prosperity, seventy percent of deaths in Sri Lanka are from preventable diseases. It’s time for a new kind of care.

By Sandya Salgado at the World Bank

3. To protect ourselves from bioweapons, we may have to reinvent science itself.

By Patrick Tucker in Defense One

4. In Europe today, Russia is demonstrating its mastery of hybrid warfare. The U.S. and NATO are far behind.

By Nadia Schadlow in War on the Rocks

5. Encryption might not matter to most Americans, but it is a crucial tool for reporting the news.

By Kelly J. O’Brien in Columbia Journalism Review

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Ukraine

Ukraine President Lifts Objections to Vote on Regional Power

The conflict between Russia-backed rebels and government troops in eastern Ukraine has claimed more than 6,000 lives

(KIEV, Ukraine) — Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko on Monday publicly lifted his objections to a referendum that could give more powers to the restive regions engulfed in more than a year of warfare, reversing his government’s previous position. Russia-backed separatists, however, dismissed Poroshenko’s gesture as meaningless.

The conflict between Russia-backed rebels and government troops in eastern Ukraine has claimed more than 6,000 lives. When it began, protesters in the east demanded a vote on giving their regions more autonomy. Such calls were rejected by the Ukrainian government at the time.

But Poroshenko on Monday met a parliamentary commission that is drafting amendments to the country’s constitution and said in a televised meeting that if the commission decides a referendum is necessary, he would not stand in the way.

“I’m ready to launch a referendum on the issue of state governance if you decide it is necessary,” he said.

Ukraine’s eastern industrial heartland was the support base for Kremlin-friendly President Viktor Yanukovych, who was ousted in February last year after months of protests. Several months into the fighting, however, pro-Russia rebels said they no longer wanted autonomy, but rather an independent state.

Hostilities have subsided in the region after the parties agreed in February to a cease-fire deal brokered by Western leaders in Minsk, Belarus.

Russia-backed separatists on Monday balked at the idea of a referendum as offering too little.

Senior rebel official Andrei Purgin told The Associated Press on Monday that none of their representatives were invited to sit on the constitutional commission to start with, “which already says a lot.”

“Everything that Kiev does shows that they have to decide to find agreement but dictate their terms to us, which contradicts the Minsk accords,” Purgin said, adding that “Poroshenko’s statement does not mean anything” because there are no details of the referendum — if it happens at all.

Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk on Monday dismissed suggestions of direct talks with the rebels. “When we talk about our dialogue with the east, we mean a dialogue with legitimately elected representatives of the east of the country, not Russian gangsters and terrorists.”

Yatsenyuk said he looks forward to a local election in the rebel-occupied areas that, he said, both Russia and the rebels had committed to in Minsk.

Moscow sided with the rebels, calling on Kiev to include them in deliberations on constitutional reform. Speaking at a televised news conference, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that reform should go ahead “only with the approval and agreement of Luhansk and Donetsk,” the two biggest cities under separatist control.

Poroshenko on Monday insisted that he still opposed federalization, which Russia has advocated, but favors decentralizing power in favor of the regions. Decision-making on security, defense and foreign policy, Poroshenko said, would remain in the hands of the central government.

Poroshenko added that he still opposes making Russian a second official language. “Ukrainian has been and will be our only state language.”

Purgin said Poroshenko’s insistence shows that “he doesn’t listen to the voice of the east: we speak Russian here.”

TIME russia

At Least 56 Dead as Trawler Sinks Off Eastern Coast of Russia

The vessel is believed to have hit ice

A Russian trawler capsized in the waters just off the country’s Kamchatka peninsula on Thursday, leaving at least 56 dead, AP reports.

A total of 63 people from the Dalniy Vostok have been rescued by other fishing vessels, Russian news agency TASS reported.

Of the 132 on board, 78 were Russian nationals, while the rest were from Myanmar, Ukraine, Lithuania and Vanuatu.

A source from the regional emergencies ministry told TASS that the trawler might have hit drifting ice in the Sea of Okhotsk where it sank, around 150 miles south of the city of Magadan.

“The ship did not send a distress signal,” the source said.

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