Azovstal defenders to return to Ukraine with Zelensky

The commanding officers who defended the Azovstal plant in Mariupol will be returning home from Turkey, where they had been kept after a prisoner exchange between Ukraine and Russia, President Volodymyr Zelensky's office announced on July 8.    

The president met with the officers and picked them up during his visit to Turkey, where he met with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Bartholomew I, the ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople.

The officers include Denys Prokopenko, Serhiy Volynskiy, Sviatoslav Palamar, Denys Shleha and Oleh Khomenko, Zelensky said. Previously they had been expected to remain in Turkey until the end of Russia's war against Ukraine.  

Ukraine reached a deal to secure the release of 215 Azovstal defenders from Russian captivity in September.

In that exchange, Russia received Ukrainian politician and Putin's family friend Viktor Medvedchuk and 55 Russian POWs.

Azovstal became a symbol of Ukrainian resistance at the onset of the full-scale Russian invasion, as Ukrainian soldiers valiantly defended the plant despite being outmatched in firepower.

The siege of Mariupol lasted until the end of May 2022, when the city fell under Russian occupation.

Lyman shelling caused 8 deaths

The death toll of a Russian rocket attack on Lyman in Donetsk Oblast has risen to eight, with 13 people injured, according to the head of the regional military administration, Pavlo Kyrylenko.    

The attack was conducted at 10 a.m. on July 8, striking a neighborhood with private residences, damaging a home and a store. As of Kyrylenko's update, police and paramedics were still on site to provide necessary medical assistance.

Peskov claims Ukraine, Turkey ‘violated’ prisoner exchange agreements on return of Azov commanders

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov claimed Ukraine and Turkey "violated” prisoner exchange agreements amid the return of Ukrainian commanding officers who defended the Azovstal steel plant from Turkey.

Five Ukrainian commanding officers, Denys Prokopenko, Serhiy Volynskiy, Sviatoslav Palamar, Denys Shleha, and Oleh Khomenko, were to be kept in Turkey as part of a prisoner exchange agreement between Ukraine and Russia.

Peskov claimed Moscow was "not notified” about the officers' transfer to Ukraine.

However, Ukraine's military intelligence spokesperson Andrii Yusov told Suspilne news outlet that Ukraine returned Azovstal commanders home by international law.

President Volodymyr Zelensky's administration announced on July 8 that top officers will be returning home from Turkey.

The Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol became a symbol of Ukrainian resistance at the onset of the full-scale Russian invasion, as Ukrainian soldiers valiantly defended.

Russian forces occupied Mariupol in late May 2022. After an almost three-month siege, the port city on the Azov Sea was turned to scorched earth.

Ukraine reached a deal to secure the release of Azovstal defenders from Russian captivity in September 2022.

Under the deal, Ukraine got 200 prisoners of war in exchange for Viktor Medvedchuk, Putin's family friend and Ukraine's most high-profile pro-Russian politician. Medvedchuk was arrested in April 2022 on charges of high treason.

Separately, five top commanders of the Azovstal defense were exchanged for 55 Russian war prisoners whose names weren't revealed. After the swap, Zelensky said that the condition was that they would stay in Turkey “until the war ends.”

Erdogan wants to extend the grain deal for another 3 months

The Black Sea Grain Initiative, allowing Ukraine to continue exporting its grain amid Russia's full-scale war, was prolonged on May 17, and is due to expire on July 18.

“I’m hopeful for an extension,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on July 8 in a joint speech with President Volodymyr Zelensky.

“We hope that it will be extended at least once every three months, not every two months. We will make an effort in this regard and try to increase the duration of it to two years,” Erdogan said.

The UN and Turkey-brokered deal, first signed in July 2022, has been paramount in subduing soaring food prices worldwide.

Russia's all-out war prevented Ukraine, one of the world's top grain suppliers, from exporting agricultural products from its Black Sea ports.

The deal has been extended several times since then. The previous extension was agreed upon on March 17, after weeks of Russia threatening to back out of it if certain terms were not met.

Russia has repeatedly threatened to terminate the deal while sabotaging and delaying the inspections of ships carrying Ukrainian food products under the initiative.

According to Ukraine's Infrastructure Ministry, due to Russia's actions, the worldwide exports of Ukrainian grain have been reduced by 15-18 million tons.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian authorities insist that the grain deal be open-ended and automatically extended for 120 days.

Poll: Almost 70% of Russians want Putin re-elected in 2024

According to a recent poll conducted by the Russian Levada Center, 68% of surveyed Russian citizens want Vladimir Putin to be re-elected in the 2024 presidential election.

Of those surveyed who want Putin to remain president after the 2024 election, 29% say that he "leads the right policy, strengthens the state," while 20% say Putin is "a good president," according to the poll.

Also, 17% of respondents believe that Putin is "pro-people and pro-stability" and that "there is no alternative."

The majority of those who want Putin re-elected are people aged 55 and older, those who trust TV as their primary source of information and are the "wealthiest Russians," according to the poll.

Also, 39% of respondents believe that Putin expresses the interests of "law enforcement," which "has not changed much over two years," the poll says. At the same time, 29% of respondents believe that he expresses the interests of "ordinary people," which is the "highest figure for all the time of observation," according to the survey.

The next presidential election is scheduled to be held in Russia in March 2024.

This will be the first presidential election in Russia after Putin made amendments to the country's constitution in 2020, allowing him to seek re-election.

Putin was first elected as the president of Russia in 2000, serving two terms in a row until 2008. He was elected again in 2012 and re-elected in 2018.