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A black bulletproof vest bearing a Ukrainian military crest, a tourniquet and two felt-tip pens make up street artist Gamlet Zinkivsky's unpretentious work equipment.
The 35-year-old Ukrainian has remained in his hometown of Kharkiv, Ukraine's second-biggest city, to paint its walls even amid the destruction of Russia's invasion.
Recognised internationally with exhibitions and paintings from Lima to London, Gamlet has put aside his globe-trotting success and now uses his talent to support the home front during the war.
"If I move I can have my career somewhere abroad. But it will only be comfort. In Ukraine, I have the feeling that I'm building the country," he said.
"All the city is my house, all the city (is) my gallery," the bald artist added, with four silver rings glinting on his left hand.
He writes the words "hellish hospitality" on the latest addition to his Kharkiv portfolio, a combination of Molotov cocktails and a petrol can drawn in a city centre scarred by Russian artillery fire.
'You have to paint'
At the start of the war, Gamlet spent a night in a Kharkiv metro station and 10 days at his parents' house before moving with relatives to Ivano-Frankivsk in relatively untouched western Ukraine.
He spent two months there raising funds for humanitarian aid and Ukraine's army, saying he sold a painting for two night vision devices.
Then came a telephone call from the commander of the Khartia Battalion, whose insignia he proudly sports on his vest. Every painting is signed with its name.
"You're staying in Ivano-Frankivsk for too long. We need you here (in Kharkiv) -- you have to paint," the commander told him.
Gamlet believes working in the street, where he can paint when and where he wants, is more important for public morale than getting exposure in galleries.
"I see people smiling and happy because they see a destroyed building which they loved but smile when they see painting," he explained.
Gamlet also sees his work as increasing access to art, which he prioritizes above simply earning money from selling pictures.
"Street art, it's the story for people who have never been to (an) exhibition or who don't visit museums, but they know my work in the street."
Gamlet hopes that his works, painted on wood covering the windows and exteriors of damaged buildings, will be given to a future war museum or sold for a good cause.
Only one of the eight paintings he completed in the eastern city of Izyum survived battles with Russian forces in recent weeks, he added, while other works were lost in Berdyansk and Mariupol.
But he says he does not see his art as a weapon against Russia.
"What I'm doing helps real fighters with weapons to uphold this country. This country, apart from people and cities, has artists, musicians, and culture they love. This inspires them (soldiers) to fight and defend."
Brushes with the law
This is the second time that Gamlet has stayed in Kharkiv for political reasons.
He was ready to move to Paris in 2013 before the pro-Western Maidan revolution toppled Ukraine's pro-Russian leader Viktor Yanukovych in 2014.
That proved to be a watershed moment. "In 2014 I started painting with a new powerful spirit. I understood I was Ukrainian," he said.
Gamlet started painting Kharkiv's walls when he was 17 -- and his artistic activities earned him many brushes with the law.
He said he would spend as much money on "corruption" to leave police custody as he did on paint.
After yet another arrest, Gamlet decided to challenge the officers.
"I told them, 'What are you doing? Don't you have other things to do? Crimea was annexed and you found (a) terrorist like me.' Then they stopped bothering," he recalled.
Since then, he says he rejected an offer from the city to become its official painter in order to remain independent.
Gamlet studied art at university and art school for eight years. But he decided to do away with colors 12 years ago, preferring the minimalism of black and white in his work.
"I don't want to paint beautiful paintings, but great ideas," he explained.
"In the world everything is smeared and it's hard to understand if it's good or bad. In painting I can make it black and white."
© 2022 AFP
Trump ally Tom Barrack accused of secretly altering GOP platform to shield Saudi ties to 9/11 hijackers
Former President Donald Trump's billionaire friend Thomas Barrack altered the GOP platform at the 2016 Republican National Convention to shield the Saudi royal family's ties to the 9/11 hijackers.
The Department of Justice updated its indictment against the chairman of Trump's 2017 inaugural committee, who was arrested last year on charges of foreign lobbying and obstruction of justice, to show the role Barrack played in the RNC convention held in Cleveland, Ohio, reported The Daily Beast.
“It underscores the hypocrisy of the Trump camp, because at that time, there was an active presidential campaign going on,” said Brian McGlinchey, an independent journalist from Texas who has pushed for the release of missing records from the 9/11 probe. “You’ve got the candidate out front raising deep suspicions about Saudi involvement, at the same time you have these back channel maneuvers at the Republican convention to help the Saudis avoid embarrassment.”
Congressional investigators have already learned that Barrack allowed the Saudis and Emiratis to alter a Trump campaign speech on energy, where he pledge to "work with our Gulf allies," and the DOJ's revised indictment shows that someone identified only as "Person-1" emailed Barrack to massage GOP talking points at the convention.
“We need to talk about language for me to put in [the national political party] platform at national convention. Can be much more expansive than what we did in speech,” wrote that person, who the news site Middle East Eye suspects was Paul Manafort. "Platform language [should be] based on what you hear from your friends.”
Trump had pledged to release the infamous 28 pages that were missing from the 9/11 Commission Report that showed the Saudi royal family's ties to the hijackers, but "Person-1" demanded that anything that could be considered "anti the Saudi Royal Family" must be removed from the platform.
Barrack then forwarded that email to Emirati businessman Rashid Al-Malik, who has been indicted by the DOJ for allegedly passing information to United Arab Emirates spies.
“Very confidential but you can share with HH," Barrack wrote to Al-Malik. "Please do not circulate any further since it is very sensitive.”
However, federal investigators say Al-Malik forwarded that email to an unnamed Emirati official, and Barrack is also accused of sharing that message with yet another unnamed Emirati official who has been identified by reporters as UAE ambassador Yousef Al Otaiba, who remains in that post in Washington, D.C.
Barrack has been indicted on two new charges of lying to the FBI during a July 2019 interview, after investigators say he lied about having an additional phone that was a dedicated line for secretly communicating with the Emiratis.
Australians punch drunk after three crisis-ridden years of fire, flood and plague will go to the polls on Saturday, in a tight race narrowly tipped to end a decade of conservative rule.
Opinion polls have consistently shown centre-left Labor ahead, suggesting a government led by veteran party lawmaker Anthony Albanese that would be more climate-friendly and less antagonistic toward China.
But pugilistic Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who leads a conservative coalition, appears to be rapidly closing the gap as election day approaches.
The often-acrimonious campaign has been marked by fears about soaring prices, divisions over Morrison's leadership and anxiousness about tougher days to come.
The last three years have seen Australia's once-envied way of life upended by back-to-back bushfires, droughts, the Covid-19 pandemic and several "once-in-a-century" floods.
Australians -- usually some of the world's most optimistic voters -- have grown markedly more dissatisfied with their lives, more pessimistic about their future and more turned off by traditional political parties, according to polling by Ipsos.
For many Aussies, their unofficial mantra of gung-ho optimism -- "she'll be right" -- suddenly seems a bit wrong.
"It has been a very difficult period for the country," said Mark Kenny, a professor at the Australian National University.
"There's a fair bit of dissatisfaction with this government, and the prime minister's standing has been called into question quite a lot."
Surveys show the malaise is pronounced among women and younger voters, who face the prospect of being poorer than their parents while inheriting a country at the pointy end of climate change and located in an increasingly tough neighborhood.
Lurching from crisis to crisis
Just over 17 million Australians are registered to go to the polls on Saturday, electing 151 representatives to the lower house and just over half the members of the Senate.
Voting is compulsory and voters rank the candidates in order of preference, adding extra layers of unpredictability to the outcome.
Fifty-four-year-old Morrison is hoping for a repeat of his 2019 "miracle" come-from-behind election victory. But he will have to overcome the collective trauma of the last three years.
Within months of his shock victory, the "Black Summer" bushfires would cut through the east of the country, burning an area the size of Finland and choking Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne in a miasma of acrid smoke for weeks on end.
Morrison's decision to take a family holiday to Hawaii in the middle of the crisis was widely pilloried, as was his downplaying of the affair by saying "I don't hold a hose, mate."
No sooner had the fires ended than the Covid-19 pandemic began.
Morrison's popularity initially surged as Australians watched the horrors unfolding in China, Italy and elsewhere from a state of Covid-free normalcy on Bondi and other beaches.
The turning point was the lengthy delay in rolling out vaccines, despite Morrison's promises that Australia was at the "front of the queue", said Ben Raue of The Tally Room, a popular political blog.
The delay prolonged lockdowns in major cities and a two-year-long border closure -- splitting families and gaining Australia a reputation for being a "hermit state" isolated from the rest of the world.
"That was the point when Morrison went from being a little bit behind, to being quite a long way behind" in the polls, said Raue.
"They've never really recovered since then. They've had some better polls and some worse polls, but they've pretty much never been ahead."
Albanese, a 59-year-old veteran Labor lawmaker, has tried to make the election a referendum on Morrison's performance.
His own "small target" campaign has given Morrison and Australia's partisan media few policies to shoot at, but also left voters guessing at what an Albanese-led government might bring.
The contest has been rough and tumble, highly personal and at times bordering on juvenile.
The Liberal party has splashed adverts claiming "it won't be easy with Albanese", and has repeatedly suggested he is dangerous and a "loose unit" on the economy.
Labor has hit back, imploring Australians to "fire the liar".
Around a third of voters are expected to look beyond traditional left and right parties as their first preference.
They can choose from an array of populists, the far-right and centrist independent candidates angered by the Liberals' pro-coal stance on climate.
"There's an absolute sense that Liberal voters who sit near the centre, who are perhaps economic conservatives and social progressives, that they've been left in the wilderness," Zoe Daniel, an independent candidate challenging one Melbourne constituency, told AFP.
From flip-flops to bootstraps
In the latter stages of the campaign, the focus has turned to the soaring cost of living in what was already one of the world's most expensive places to live.
Despite presiding over a record deficit, the first recession in a generation and sclerotic wage growth, Morrison's ability to reinvent his image and reframe the debate has kept his party well within touching distance.
One poll commissioned by The Sydney Morning Herald on Wednesday predicted a Labor win, but put his re-election within the margin of error.
There is a perception Morrison's attacks on Albanese's "dangerous" economic plan may be starting to stick.
"I think there's a sense of change in this country. The question is, has the opposition done enough to convince people that change is a safe option?" said Kenny.
© 2022 AFP