US Charges Four Russian Soldiers With War Crimes for Torturing American in Ukraine

A Virginia federal court has charged four Russian soldiers for committing war crimes against an American who was residing in Ukraine during the Russian invasion. The charges include unlawful confinement, conspiracy to commit war crimes, inhuman treatment, and torture.

The four Russian soldiers have been identified as Suren Seiranovich Mkrtchyan, Dmitry Budnik, V Alerii Lnu and Nazar Lnu. Bringing these charges to light is “an important step towards accountability for the illegal war in Ukraine,” Attorney General Merrick Garland stated during a press conference.

“As the world has witnessed the horrors of Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine, so has the United States Department of Justice. That is why the Justice Department has filed the first-ever charges under the US war crimes statute against four Russia-affiliated military personnel for heinous crimes against an American citizen.”

FBI Director Christopher Wray stated that although the Department of Justice (DOJ) has never before brought charges under this war crimes statute, the bureau has investigated and prosecuted those responsible for war crimes on multiple occasions.

“The human toll of the conflict in Ukraine weighs heavily on the hearts of the FBI, and we’re resolved to hold war criminals accountable no matter where they are or how long it takes.”

Embed from Getty Images

The indictment states that in April 2022, the Russian soldiers abducted the American from his home in the village of Mylove, in Kherson province, before beating and torturing him in a Russian military compound. In the early days of Vladimir Putin’s invasion, Russian forces invaded the area and captured Kherson and surrounding rural settlements. The American was held in the compound for ten days.

The four defendants and other unnamed co-defendants allegedly subjected the American to torture during two separate interrogation sessions. They bound him, stripped him naked, and severely beat him with their fists, feet and stocks of their guns before photographing him, according to the unsealed indictment. The American was not a combatant and, therefore, a protected civilian under the Geneva Convention of 1949.

Two of the accused were commanding officers in the Russian Armed Forces, while the other two were members of lower ranks. The American, who remains unnamed, was evacuated in the summer of 2022 from Ukraine with his wife.

Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas stated that the American informed DHS investigators about the torture he suffered after his evacuation. Federal agents “traveled internationally to interview the victim’s family,” according to Mayorkas.

“They identified and interviewed individuals who were present within the general vicinity of Mylove around the time the victim was held in captivity, who confirmed the Russian forces’ occupation in the area. Based on the information they obtained, the HSI agents and their FBI partners were able to identify the four defendants whose indictments are announced today.”

Embed from Getty Images

Secretary Mayorkas also said that the gravity of these indictments sends a clear message to Russia.

“Thanks to the tireless and unprecedented work of federal law enforcement agents from Homeland Security Investigations and the Justice Department, four Russian soldiers, accused of unthinkable, unacceptable human rights violations against an American citizen, have been charged with war crimes and will be brought to justice. The indictments unsealed today send a clear message to Russia – our government will spare no effort and spare no resource to hold accountable those who violate the fundamental human rights of an American.”

During the captivity, Russian soldiers allegedly threatened to kill the American, at times pointing guns to his head and a knife to his throat. Russian soldiers also put the American through a “mock execution.” They “allegedly forced the victim to the ground, put a gun to the back of his head, then moved the gin slightly and shot a bullet just past the victim’s head.”

The American faced sexual assault threats in addition to other forms of intimidation. When his answers  fell short of the Russian soldiers’ expectations, some of them threatened him “with death and asked for his last words.” He was also ordered to dig trenches for the Russian military as part of forced labor.

Speaking about the victim’s ordeal, Garland said, “Again and again, he believed he was going to die.”

“In the midst of war, Ukrainian prosecutors and investigators have risked their lives to bring justice to the Ukrainian people. When the time comes, the United States and our partners will be ready to bring accountability to Russia.”


Clara Peeters, The Forgotten 17th Century Artist Who’s Painting Could Now Sell For Over $700,000 

A painting of a basket of flowers from the early 17th-century is about to be sold at an auction in December. The untitled work is by Clara Peeters, a Flemish painter who was written out of art history for centuries. 

The flower still life itself has not been seen in public for over 100 years, and has never appeared in any art or art history books. Overall, very little is known about Peeters life. 

Embed from Getty Images

The painting is a beautiful realistic work showing roses, carnations, tulips, and many other flowers in a wicker basket sitting on a ledge. It also features a little butterfly and cricket within the foreground. 

According to Chloe Stead, of Sotheby’s which is selling the painting, Peeters painting is done on copper, giving the piece an “enamel-like luster.”

Stead believes the painting could be sold at around £500,000 to £700,000 (more than $700,000 USD). 

“Peeters was forgotten for such a long time. There is a remarkable lack of detail known about her life, which is tantalizing given the extraordinary quality of her paintings,” Stead said.

Embed from Getty Images

According to Stead, Peeters’ paintings were previously recorded as being from outside of Antwerp, with other indications suggesting that she was a successful artist. In her lifetime, she painted around 40 works, and the still like of flowers about to be auctioned has been in a private collection in Belgium since 1928. 

“Her paintings were quite prized objects and were being passed around. Which makes it so remarkable that she – like so many of her female contemporaries – were, over the centuries thereafter, written out of art history. And only rediscovered and reassessed in the mid-late 20th century,” Stead said

The painting will be sold alongside another natural-themed still life of apricots, peaches, and plums in a porcelain bowl by artist Louise Moillon in 1634. 

Stead said: “Moillon’s paintings are sublime. She’s an expert in texture, and it’s the contrast in this painting between the cool white of the porcelain bowl and the lovely fuzzy surface of the apricots and peaches that is such a treat.

“She’s got a larger oeuvre [than Peeters] but a lot of her paintings are in private collections in France. And so she’s a name that we see less often. It’s a beautiful picture.” It has an estimate of £600,000 to £800,000.

bed bath beyond

Empty Bed Bath & Beyond Stores Are Hot Commercial Real Estate Opportunities

Commercial real estate retailers are seeing a major rise in available spaces due to the influx of empty Bed Bath & Beyond stores. 

When superstore retailers go out of business, other companies have the chance to take over the space for a faster turnaround due to its larger size. For example, Burlington Stores CEO Micheal O’Sullivan stated that some of their best stores were created “from carved-up Kmart or Sears locations.”

Embed from Getty Images

Burlington has also already taken over 44 former Bed Bath & Beyond locations. According to CNN, this is the first holiday season in more than 50 years where there won’t be any physical Bed Bath & Beyond stores. The chain went out of business earlier this year, and closed its last 360 stores in what’s been referred to as the largest retail bankruptcies in years; 120 buybuy BABYs also closed down. bought the Bed Bath & Beyond brand and transitioned it to relaunch exclusively online. The relaunch also included the famous 20% off coupons from the former retail giant. 

As the hundreds of empty Bed Bath & Beyond stores are continuously being auctioned off, the industry has realized how valuable these spaces are for real estate opportunities. 

According to CNN, Burlington, Michaels, Barnes & Noble, Macy’s, Homegoods, and many other chains have already replaced old Bed Bath & Beyond stores. Some of the vacant spaces have even been taken over by recreational services such as pickleball courts, bowling alleys, and trampoline parks. 

Embed from Getty Images

While the retail industry itself has been slowing down as of late, the vacant Bed Bath & Beyond locations are a hot ticket item for retailers and other developers due to an overall lack of big box store spaces to move into. In fact, there hasn’t been a major increase in new retail spaces since the financial crisis in 2008, CNN reports, especially with the rise in online shopping. 

“Bed Bath & Beyond spaces have been grabbed up swiftly at rents of up to 50% what Bed Bath & Beyond was paying. Landlords are taking advantage of the vacancies, with some dividing former Bed Bath spaces into smaller sizes,” said Brandon Isner, CBRE’s head of retail research for the Americas.

“There is little to no concern that any of the spaces will go vacant for long,” he said.

Kimco Realty, a real estate owner with 26 former Bed Bath & Beyond leases, said that “new leases were 38% higher than Bed Bath & Beyond rents.” 

“We have a very strong real estate team that has a lot of experience dealing with retail bankruptcies,” Burlington CEO Michael O’Sullivan said. “Many of our most successful and productive stores today were once upon a time Circuit City, Toys R Us, Sports Authority, Linens ’N Things.”


Portland Public School Teachers Reach Tentative Deal After More Than Three Weeks Of Striking 

Portland Public Schools and the Portland Association of Teachers have reached a tentative deal to end the teachers strike that’s been occurring for over three weeks, keeping schools in the area closed since November 1st. This week, more than 40,000 students were able to return to the classroom. 

According to the Portland Public Schools letter sent out to families last weekend, union members will have to ratify the terms of the agreement, and the school board will also need to approve the full contract, according to Oregon Public Broadcasting.

Embed from Getty Images

“We are relieved to have our students returning to school and know that being out of school for the last three weeks — missing classmates, teachers, and learning — has been hard for everyone,” Superintendent Guadalupe Guerrero and the PPS school board said.

“We thank our students, families, and community for your patience and perseverance through these protracted negotiations. We also want to express our deep appreciation for our educators, who are the backbone of our district, and who enrich the lives of our students.”

The Portland Association of Teachers said “educators are ending the strike, securing a historic tentative agreement with key wins for student mental health support, class size, protected planning time, building health and safety protections, and cost-of-living increases.”

Embed from Getty Images

The district’s statement said the “agreement includes processes for resolving class size concerns that involve impacted educators, school leaders, and parents.” The teachers union suggested parents would be more than simply involved, describing the new structure as “shared decision-making committees involving educators and parents.”

Portland Association of Teachers president Angela Bonilla stated that parents would not gain access to private student information, and further discussions will be about identifying necessary support for class sizes that are growing too large. 

“That might look like saying, ‘Hey, this class is in the small classroom on the second floor now that they have an extra student, we gotta move them to the big classroom. But we know that the best solutions to problems that we have in our schools come from the folks who actually attend them, who work at them and who send their students to those places,” Bonilla said. 

As outlined in statements from PAT and PPS, “the contract also increases dedicated planning time, access to mental health support teams for students throughout the district, and funding to address building conditions, among other things.”

“This contract is a watershed moment for Portland students, families and educators. Educators walked picket lines alongside families, students and allies — and because of that, our schools are getting the added investment they need,” Bonilla said.


Scientists Reveal Evidence That Supports A Possible Origin Story For The Great Sphinx

Space scientist and geologist Farouk El-Baz initially theorized that wind played a major role in shaping the famous Great Sphinx of Giza 40 years ago. Now, a new study has revealed evidence that suggests El-Baz’s theory might be correct. The theory states that wind played a major role in shaping the initial structure of the Great Sphinx before ancient Egyptians added the surface details. 

The theory is being supported based on a team of scientists in New York University’s Applied Mathematics Laboratory who worked to replicate the conditions the ancient Egyptians faced 4,500 years ago; which is when scientists believe the statue was likely built.

Embed from Getty Images

“Our findings offer a possible ‘origin story’ for how Sphinx-like formations can come about from erosion. Our laboratory experiments showed that surprisingly Sphinx-like shapes can, in fact, come from materials being eroded by fast flows,” said senior study author Leif Ristroph, an associate professor at New York University’s Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences, in a news release

The team of researchers created clay-model landforms of compact sand which typically naturally occurs from the wind in exposed desert regions. They also washed the formations with a fast stream of water to represent the wind. 

According to CNN’s Taylor Nicioli, “based on the composition of the Great Sphinx, the team used harder, non-erodible inclusions within the featureless soft-clay mound, and with the flow from the water tunnel, the researchers found a lion form had begun to take shape.”

“Within the desert, there are yardangs that exist that naturally look like seated or lying animals with raised heads. Some of them look so much like a seated lion, or a seated cat, that they’re sometimes called Mud Lions. … Our experiments could add to the understanding of how these yardangs form,” Ristroph told CNN.

Embed from Getty Images

It is believed that the Great Sphinx of Giza was carved from a single piece of limestone. The theory emphasizing the wind’s role in creating the 66-foot formation was initially featured in a 1981 Smithsonian Magazine article by El-Baz. 

“The premise was based on leading work by the late planetary geologist Ronald Greeley, who had simulated wind tunnels to explore how wind erosion can shape structures in the desert,” El-Baz told CNN

Salima Ikram, distinguished university professor of Egyptology at the American University in Cairo, questioned the theory: “Once the Great Sphinx was carved, nature played a part in its further formation, but it is unlikely that the original form was based on a yardang (which are generally of mud — this is limestone) as there are significant quarry marks and working marks surrounding it.” 

“There is too much evidence of human intervention in the construction of the Great Sphinx to make the yardang theory feasible,” Ikram said.

The New York University researchers said their results “suggest that Sphinx-like structures can form under fairly commonplace conditions, but the findings don’t resolve the mysteries behind yardangs and the Great Sphinx.

“t’s not so black and white. … No one says this is an entirely human carved thing and no one says it’s entirely nature carved. The question is how much was naturally existing and then further modified. What our (study) would do is tell you that much of the head base, the neck and the paws, much of that is possible to carve by nature, by erosion,” Ristroph told CNN.


Israel And Hamas Reach Deal To Release Hostages And Pause Fighting 

According to reports from NBC, Israel and Hamas have agreed to a deal in which 50 women and children who were kidnapped and held in Gaza will be released while both sides take a pause on fighting with each other. The deal will also involve 150 Palestinian women and children being released from Israeli jails, as well as the delivery of hundreds of aid trucks. 

The US and other nations have been putting pressure on Israel and Palestine to reach a deal to stop the violence. Local officials in Gaza have stated that more than 14,000 people, including 5,000 children, have been killed from Israel’s air strikes and ground assaults. More than 1.6 million Palestinians have been displaced in what’s being called a “mounting humanitarian crisis.”

Embed from Getty Images

Israel’s government approved the deal on Wednesday with Hamas confirming the deal in a statement, claiming this is “a chance to consolidate the will of our victorious resistance. All hostages exchanged by both sides must be under the age of 19, although this detail was not mentioned by any other party.”

Hamas carried out an attack on Israel on October 7th in which some 1,200 people were killed. 

Three Americans could be part of the first group of hostages released: two adults and a 3-year-old girl named Abigail,” a senior Biden administration official said.

The pause in fighting will last four days. Israeli drones that have been responsible for a majority of the attacks in Palestine will cease to fly, and Hamas will be consolidating the remaining hostages. 

“The deal includes an option to extend the pause in exchange for 10 hostages released per day,” the Israeli official said.

This pause also means that more fuel and supply trucks will be able to enter Gaza, as Israel has been resisting this due to the fact that it “can be used by Hamas to launch rockets and power tunnels, along with as many as 300 to 400 daily humanitarian aid trucks, according to a senior U.S. official and a source familiar with the talks in the region.”

A senior Israeli official said the “government would release 150 Palestinian women and children,” none of which are accused of killing Israelis directly.

Embed from Getty Images

According to Patrick Smith, Corky Siemaszko and Alexander Smith of NBC, “Netanyahu’s office released a list of 300 prisoners eligible for release under the agreement. On the list, 123 are teenagers between the ages of 14 and 17, held on allegations from throwing rocks and contacting banned terrorist groups, to attempted stabbings and planning suicide attacks. 

There are 33 women, ages 18 to 59, accused of crimes such as nonfatal stabbings and recruiting and transferring money for terror groups. And 144 are 18-year-old males, who appeared to fall outside the original criteria put forward by Israel, meaning it was unclear when they would be released.”

Israel is holding more than 4,700 Palestinians, including 146 minors, in detention on what it calls security grounds,” according to the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem. 

“In addition some 1,300 Palestinians are under administrative detention — which means they are being held without trial and without having committed an offense, on the grounds they plan to break the law in the future,” B’Tselem says. 

The Red Cross will also now be allowed access to the hostages in Gaza to provide them with medicine and other supplies. 

Biden said in a statement late Tuesday he welcomed the agreement.

“First lady Jill Biden “and I have been keeping all those held hostage and their loved ones close to our hearts these many weeks, and I am extraordinarily gratified that some of these brave souls, who have endured weeks of captivity and an unspeakable ordeal, will be reunited with their families once this deal is fully implemented,” he said.


Google To Potentially Invest Hundreds Of Millions Into Character.AI Startup 

Google is currently in conversation to invest in Character.AI, an artificial intelligence chatbot platform startup. According to CTech News, Character.AI was created by Noam Shazeer and Daniel De Freitas, two former employees of Google Brain. 

Google is prepared to invest “hundreds of millions of dollars” into Character.AI as it continues to train chatbot models to talk to users, according to sources who spoke to Reuters. 

Embed from Getty Images

Character.AI and Google already have a standing relationship in which they use Google’s cloud services and Tensor Processing Units to train its chatbot models, so this investment would deepen that partnership. 

Character.AI allows users to log in and choose from a variety of celebrities, movie characters, creatures, etc. to chat with. Users can even create their own character chatbot to speak with. Subscription models cost $9.99 a month, but the platform is also free to use. 

According to data from Similarweb, reported by CalTech, “Character.AI’s chatbots, with various roles and tones to choose from, have appealed to users ages 18 to 24, who contributed about 60% of its website traffic. 

Embed from Getty Images

The demographic is helping the company position itself as the purveyor of more fun personal AI companions, compared to other AI chatbots from OpenAI’s ChatGPT and Google’s Bard.”

Within the first six months of launching, Character.AI saw about 100 million visits every month. 

Reuters wrote that “The startup is also in talks to raise equity funding from venture capital investors, which could value the company at over $5 billion.

In March, it raised $150 million in a funding round led by Andreessen Horowitz at $1 billion valuation.

Google has been investing in AI startups, including $2 billion for model maker Anthropic in the form of convertible notes, on top of its earlier equity investment.”


13-Year-Old Skateboarder, Cui Chenxi, Is China’s Youngest Asian Games Gold Medalist 

13-year-old Cui Chenxi of China has become the youngest gold medalist at the Asian Games for skateboarding. Teenage girls in general have been dominating the sport. 

In multiple interviews with Chinese state media outlets, Cui discussed how she first began skating at just three years old when she got a pair of roller blades; she actually didn’t take up skateboarding until around three years old. 

Embed from Getty Images

She took on the sport during the Covid-19 pandemic when the world was on lockdown. Within just one year, Cui was able to compete at a professional level at provincial events. 

Born in Shandong, Cui is the Chinese national team’s youngest athlete while competing in Hangzhou. According to reports from Reuters, Cui landed an incredibly difficult high rail landing, while many of her competitors avoided. 

She celebrated by proudly parading around the Qiantang Roller Sports Center with the national flag wrapped around her shoulders. 

“This is just the beginning. We must continue to work hard and strive for the Paris Olympics and get good results.”

18-year old Zeng Wenhui, Cui’s teammate, won the silver while 16-year-old Ito Miyu of Japan won bronze.

Embed from Getty Images

Skateboarding initially made its debut at the Asian Games in Jakarta, Indonesia in 2014, and quickly launched into mainstream competitive sports competitions, including the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. 

According to CNN, “the street event requires competitors to perform tricks on a track scattered with stairs, rails, ramps, benches and more. Skaters arrange their own routes and moves as they wish, and are scored over two runs and five tricks to determine the final score.

While the men’s sport tends to be dominated by athletes in their late teens or early twenties, women’s skateboarding has skewed increasingly younger.”

Back in September, Cui got to the finals of the 2024 Paris Olympic Games qualifier, WST Lausanne Street, with a score that was higher than what bronze medalist Funa Nakayama earned at the 2020 Olympics. She’s on track to continue dominating the sport in the road to the Olympics.


Emirates Places $52 Billion Order For 95 Boeing Aircraft Jets

Emirates Airline announced on Monday that it placed an order for 95 Boeing aircraft jets valued at $52 billion. This marks the first major deal of the 2023 Dubai Airshow.

According to reporting from CNBC, “the state-owned flagship Dubai carrier, a subsidiary of Emirates Group, is ordering 55 additional Boeing 777-9s and 35 of its 777-8s, bringing the airline’s total orders for the 777X wide-body jets to 205 units. 

It is also updating its order of Boeing 787 Dreamliners from 30 to 35, comprised of 15 787-10s and 20 787-8s.”

Embed from Getty Images

Emirates also ordered 202 General Electric engines that will power the new 777X aircraft, which can fly up to 18 hours. 

The airline already operates the largest number of Boeing 777 aircraft out of any other airline in the world. The increase in demand for wide-body jets emphasizes the importance of the market in the Middle East and its supplies for the aircraft models. 

According to analysis from AllianceBernstein, a wealth management firm, “Middle East customers now account “for the largest portion of combined Airbus and Boeing wide-body passenger backlog at 30% of the global total.”

Embed from Getty Images

The Middle East also has the major role of being a connection hub for long haul journeys. Boeing and Airbus are two companies that have been the biggest source of demand for wide-body jets “with buoyant long-term growth outlooks and healthy recovery in air travel demand since the Covid-19 pandemic fueling airlines’ optimism and orders,” according to CNBC

“Emirates is the biggest operator of Boeing 777 aircraft, and today’s order cements that position. We’ve been closely involved in the 777 program since its start up until this latest generation of 777X aircraft,” Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, chairman and chief executive of Emirates Airline and Group, said during a news conference.

“The 777 has been central to Emirates’ fleet and network strategy of connecting cities on all continents non-stop to Dubai. We are pleased to extend our relationship with Boeing and look forward to the first 777-9 joining our fleet in 2025,” he said.


A ‘Barbenheimer’ Parody Movie Is Officially In The Works 

This past summer, ‘Barbie’ and ‘Oppenheimer’ releasing in theaters on the same day became a pop culture phenomenon known as “Barbenheimer,” with moviegoers embracing the significance of both films and their vastly unique impacts. Some viewers even planned their entire days around seeing both movies back-to-back. 

Producer Charles Band will be creating the movie through his company Full Moon Features, he confirmed to People Magazine. 

Embed from Getty Images

“With the world so divided and with so many genre films focusing on things that depress, with Barbenheimer, I just want to make a fun, cool, witty little weird movie that unites people with laughter and fun — that reminds us movies can simply be escapism.”

Band is known for his films in horror and horror-comedy, and initially spoke on the “Barbenheimer” craze to the Hollywood Reporter. Both Greta Gerwig’s ‘Barbie’ and Christopher Nolan’s ‘Oppenheimer’ received a large amount of press and hype before their release on the same day in July, so much so that the trend to see both movies in one weekend, or back-to-back on the same day, became popular. 

“We’re making a crazy, candy-colored romp that riffs on two movies that literally have nothing in common and yet when placed together, make perfect — and perfectly strange — harmonious bedfellows. Which is what I wish we could do in real life (as opposed to ‘reel’ life),” Band explained

Band said that his biographer, Adam Felber, suggested he make the movie after the hype first began, telling him “everyone around the world is having fun with that notion, so we should actually make it.” 

Embed from Getty Images

According to a synopsis reported by the Hollywood Reporter, “the story follows Dr. Bambi J Barbenheimer, a scientist doll from Dolltopia with a boyfriend named Twink Dollman, who ventures into the real world where she experiences humanity at its worst and, naturally, decides to build a giant nuclear bomb to take it all out.”

The movie will reportedly begin production sometime next year, but it’s still in the very early stages of development; they’re still looking for a director and cast. The movie will also feature a slew of original songs, like the ‘Barbie’ movie, written by Brian Wecht. 

“[This project is] an opportunity to have fun with the bizarre coupling of these two movies and the combination of Barbie’s vibe and the darkness of Oppenheimer. You mix that together and you have such an opportunity for dark humor,” Band explained. 

“But it seems like every other feature is dark and depressing, and it’s like, God, we need a little humor going into 2024,” he said.

“On top of Barbenheimer the movie, Full Moon will add some crazy merch to our already robust line of toys, including a Dr. Barbenheimer action figure riding a nuclear missile a la Dr. Strangelove. This is going to be a fun one, and I’m super excited to bring Barbenheimer to life,” Band tells People.