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Ukraine’s hidden conflict: Wounded and wanting to return to war | Russia-Ukraine war

Lviv, Ukraine – Vladyslav’s patience is wearing thin. It has been six months since the 29-year-old was admitted to a hospital in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv. His legs are immobilised, he can only move his arms with difficulty, and he is simmering with frustration at his inability to be back at the front.

“Imagine, I’ve been here since March and I cannot walk,” he says with exasperation.

Affable and full of wisecracks, Vladyslav cuts an imposing figure even while lying on a couch for his physiotherapy session.

“Everybody thinks you can be prepared for war, but it doesn’t work this way. You just do it. You just act,” he says.

A tank driver in active service in the Ukrainian armed forces since 2009, Vladyslav* was heavily wounded on March 2 in Chernihiv, northern Ukraine. “They failed to capture Chernihiv, so they just tried to destroy it completely,” Vladyslav says.

A missile fell close to the tank he was in, causing serious trauma to his brain. The doctors who rushed to save his life extracted multiple pieces of shrapnel from his head.

As he speaks, Vladyslav’s left leg jerks intermittently – a grim reminder of the serious damage done to his nervous system. Later, he was transferred to a hospital in Lviv that treats a large proportion of soldiers.

Vladyslav undergoes physiotherapy in Lviv after being wounded on March 2 [Amandas Ong/Al Jazeera]

Vladyslav’s eagerness to rejoin his comrades is tinged with anger. He was born and grew up in Luhansk. When, in 2014, pro-Russian unrest rippled across Donbas, as the regions of Luhansk and Donetsk are collectively known, his family fled northwest to Severodonetsk. “Our apartment was seized by separatists,” he says.

When Russia’s full-scale invasion began on February 24, his family was forced to abandon Severodonetsk and seek refuge in the capital Kyiv.

After months in hospital, Vladyslav says it is unthinkable for him to give up on the war effort. “Of course, I want to go back to the front line,” he laughs. “I’m a very good tank driver. Some people decide to leave the country and not defend it, but I was not raised in this way.”

For now, the hospital is unable to ascertain how long Vladyslav’s recovery will take, or if he will regain the use of his legs.

A photo of a corridor along a hospital.
The hospital where Vladyslav and other soldiers are recovering [Amandas Ong/Al Jazeera]

Race to heal soldiers

As the war nears its seventh month, the experiences of injured soldiers like Vladyslav paint a picture of the brutal consequences of prolonged fighting as injuries and deaths rise rapidly amidst widespread exhaustion.

In the relative safety of western Ukraine, hospitals are struggling to treat hundreds of soldiers like Vladyslav. Many of these soldiers have suffered critical wounds and are not physically or mentally ready to return to the front line, but feel an immense need to do so.

Medical staff are racing against the clock to heal those who – once deemed fit – will return to the front lines.

Ukraine was initially outnumbered seven to one in terms of soldiers at the beginning of the war. But with a powerful boost from weapons and equipment supplied by 28 countries, since September, its military has launched an unexpectedly rapid counter-offensive that reclaimed key cities in the east and south of the country, including in the Kharkiv and Kherson regions. Still, experts predict the war will stretch into next year.

The latest official figures from Ukraine report that 9,000 soldiers have been killed in action since the beginning of the war, and government estimates from early June stated that some 100 to 200 are killed every day, with a further 500 wounded in action.

At the hospital where Vladyslav is receiving treatment, many of the common areas are dark and the odd indoor plant droops on the wall. Where there are windows, natural light filters in weakly through lace curtains.

But the walk up to the office of 35-year-old Volodymyr Lykhach is well-lit, with a bright painting of Jesus framed by fairy lights hanging at the end of the corridor.

Originally trained as a psychologist with a private practice, Lykhach decided to take on a role at the state-run hospital when the war started, correctly anticipating that mental health services for military personnel would soon be overwhelmed. “We weren’t prepared for this sort of work,” he says.

“Everything I and my colleagues knew was about how to rehabilitate people after the war. What we’re seeing now is completely different.”

A photo of the outside of Dr Lykhach's office with a painting of Jesus on the wall next to it.
The walk to psychologist Volodymyr Lykhach’s office. Before the war, Lykhach saw patients in private practice but when the invasion started, he decided to join the state-run hospital [Amandas Ong/Al Jazeera]

‘Help them endure’

Lykhach makes his rounds in a short-sleeved white doctor’s jacket. A gentle man who speaks thoughtfully, his earnest eyes framed by black glasses, Lykhach knows that the task at hand is becoming more daunting – and critical – as the war shows no sign of ending. The number of his patients fluctuates constantly as they return to the front line or to their hometowns, but he says he averages about 10 to 12 consultations a week, sometimes several will be with the same soldiers. These consultations include strategies aimed at helping soldiers manage trauma.

The nature of new admissions to the hospital is also changing with the use of deadlier, long-range weapons on military and supply bases, ostensibly in response to Ukraine receiving more military aid from allies. “In the beginning, there were many more internally displaced civilians here. Now we get mostly active soldiers,” he says, noting that he has been seeing more cases of severe head injuries.

Some of those patients, Lykhach says, can take four months to recover, while others need a year or more. “We are trying to protect people,” Lykhach says. “But this is a mass war with a huge front line, not a local conflict. There may be errors.”

He does not know how many of the soldiers he has treated have returned to war.

The dilemma he struggles with the most is the need to prioritise the interests of the state while caring for an individual. “This war is about our survival. There are people who are not motivated to fight, but they need to. They say that they don’t want to see the things they saw any more. But our main job is to help them endure. I’m trying my best to prevent lasting trauma, and to give them the ability to care for themselves,” Lykhach says.

According to Taras Klofa, a recently-retired colonel and military doctor in Lviv who has treated soldiers with severe injuries since the conflict in Donbas began in 2014, it is “by order of the Ministry of Defense” that injured service members must return to combat if they are deemed to have sufficiently recovered and “capable to serve”.

“We have many soldiers who have very serious disabilities sustained through war, like blindness – and even though they can’t go to the front line, they’re still keen to serve in other ways, and often it is still possible,” Klofa explains.

The Armed Forces of Ukraine said in an email that it was unable to comment at this time on its current protocol for returning injured soldiers who have recovered back to the front line.

A photo of the inside of a hospital wall with a window covered by curtains on one wall and three plants in front of it, in a row, two in vases, one is a potted plant with floral wallpaper on either side of the wall with the window.
A corridor in the Lviv hospital which, after receiving mostly internally displaced civilians in the early days of the war, now sees more soldiers [Amandas Ong/Al Jazeera]

All injured soldiers must be cleared by a medical military commission. It decides if a soldier is fit to return to war, needs to be discharged from service due to their injuries, or requires additional leave or treatment.

Some soldiers are determined to back to the front line, regardless of what the commission thinks. “I had a patient who recovered from a severe head injury,” says Lykhach, referring to a soldier who was treated for three months. “They [the army] wanted to write him off, but somehow he recovered and went back to fight.”

He is painfully aware that the pressure to win the war means that his patients’ time for convalescence has a limit. “What we’re doing now usually takes much longer, but we can’t afford to wait. My job is to stabilise their mental condition so they’re able to go back. Full therapy has to come after victory.”

Without a blueprint for how to deal with scores of fatigued soldiers grappling with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), Lykhach and his colleagues have had to consult psychologists from other countries who worked in similar contexts.

Some of the injured soldiers at this hospital may never fully recover.

Lykhach vividly remembers an officer who had both his legs amputated but was determined to go back to war immediately, despite not having prosthetic legs properly fitted yet. “He said, ‘My men are waiting for me’,” Lykhach recounts. “I just started crying.”

A photo of a door to Pelipenko's room with four drawings/paintings on it, one with a blue and yellow hand print, one with a white crane carved between a drawing with yellow and blue paint, the third painting/drawing is of a large group of people holding an umbrellla and a rainbow in the back and the fourth drawing is a little drawing of a colourful heart.
The door to the room of Yehor who is in hospital with a spinal cord injury [Amandas Ong/Al Jazeera]

‘First I need to live’

According to Klofa and Lykhach, the most difficult patients to treat are those who have head and spinal cord injuries. These injuries are complex, rehabilitation often takes a long time, and many will be living with a disability or unlikely to be able to return to their previous life.

Yehor*, who is originally from Shostka, a city in the northeastern Ukrainian region of Sumy, is in hospital with a spinal cord injury. Speaking from his bed with his mother by his side, the 30-year-old’s features are gaunt. As he talks, his body is regularly seized by violent convulsions. Lykhach explains later that this is a symptom of muscle spasticity, a result of his serious back injuries.

A photo of Dr Lykhach standing over Pelipenko.
Dr Lykhach stands beside Yehor who was injured in Popasna in Donbas. A physiotherapist has been helping him sit up in a wheelchair as he makes a slow recovery [Amandas Ong/Al Jazeera]

Yehor always wanted to be a cook. But upon graduating from culinary school in 2010, he had a change of heart and decided to follow in the footsteps of his father and uncle, retraining as a soldier in Sumy, close to the Russian border. From 2015, following the annexation of Crimea, he served as a junior sergeant in the army fighting pro-Russian armed separatists in Donbas.

Having been deployed to Chernihiv in February, Yehor was initially elated when Ukrainian forces were able to push the Russians back. But this feeling was short-lived. He was next sent to Popasna, a small city in Donbas that is currently part of the breakaway self-styled Luhansk People’s Republic and currently under Russian control. There he was assigned to an infantry division that had little artillery left.

“We were attacked by the Russians again and again. A lot of us were killed,” he says. His slim, wan face betrays little expression. His body starts convulsing again.

On one occasion, Yehor’s infantry tried to escape the shelling in Popasna by running into a forested area – but the foliage was sparse and they had nowhere to hide. He thinks the Russian forces spotted them using a drone. Two soldiers died in the shelling, and more had to be evacuated due to their injuries. Yehor escaped into a part of the forest with more cover, but he and a few others were instructed by their commander to return to the site of the attack to retrieve some much-needed weapons.

This time, Yehor was injured when the Russians rained bombs down on them again. “I was rushed to Dnipro for surgery,” he says, referring to the southeast Ukrainian city that is a humanitarian hub. When Al Jazeera met him, he had been in Lviv for a month. A physiotherapist has been helping him to sit up in his wheelchair.

When asked if he hopes to return to war, a look of discomfort comes over Yehor’s face. “My desire is first to recover and to go home,” he says. “Then I want to see the members of my unit who survived. They’re like my family. We’re going to go fishing together. As for going back to the front … first I need to live. Then we will see.”

A photo of the lower half of someone lying down with their feet out of the bed whilst holding a Ukrainian flag in one hand,
Yehor holds a Ukrainian flag. He wants to go home and meet with the members of his unit who survived. ‘They’re like my family,’ he says [Amandas Ong/Al Jazeera]

Wanting to ‘protect our country’

If those conscripted into the Ukrainian army are running low on weapons and supplies, then the volunteer militias of the Territorial Defence Forces have had to make do with even less.

A few doors down from Yehor’s room is 42-year-old Dmytro, a mortar sheller in the territorial defence unit for Sloviansk, in Donetsk. He had been digging in a trench for two days when an explosive fell near him. Like the other two men, he is recovering from a head injury, and still has two pieces of shrapnel in his head. His arm is in a sling, but he is able to hobble around and is otherwise in fairly good spirits.

Dmytro found the territorial defence unit to be woefully lacking in every way. “They were just aiming for quantity of [people]. I only got weapons three months after I joined,” he says, adding that he had a gun, but no body armour. Even the people who were training him – volunteers from around Donetsk – had no combat experience, he says.

Nevertheless, he praises the unit for their shared bravery. “We are all like-minded people who just want to protect our country.”

Today, Dmytro is still in touch with the men he served with, but some have left to join another better-armed unit in Kharkiv.

For Dmytro, the opportunity to have proven himself as a soldier, even if a volunteer, is bittersweet. A former electrician, he left his home city of Horlivka in Donetsk in 2014, unwilling to live with the daily realities of Russian aggression. He tried, unsuccessfully, to join the armed forces. He speculates that this is because he was from a Russian-speaking region, and there might have been suspicions about where his loyalties lay. The invasion gave him yet another impetus to offer his services to the Ukrainian defence. “I just couldn’t tolerate it any longer,” he says.

Returning to the front

Dmytro’s wife is with him in Lviv, but he hasn’t seen his mother since November. She would like to leave Horlivka, but can’t because the only evacuation route offered is through Russia. He has kept her in the dark about his injuries, only telling her on the phone that he has been sick but is now on the mend. Thinking ahead to the future, he says, “First, I wish for victory. Secondly, I want to see my mother again. But I don’t think I can ever go home again. Not even if it’s back under Ukrainian control.” His eyes shine with tears. As soon as he gets the green light from the hospital, he intends to return to the front.

Days after meeting with Al Jazeera, Dmytro, who was deemed to have made good progress with his recovery, was transferred to another hospital. “He feels much better, but he still needs a long time to heal,” Lykhach says.

The psychological toll of the war is felt not only by the soldiers being patched up to be sent back to the front line but also by doctors like Lykhach.

“I’m seeing a therapist too, and it’s good to have collegial support,” he says with a sad smile. “If I can’t even support myself, how can I help these people?” He has also begun placing a bigger emphasis on little daily rituals that lift his spirits, from meditating to spending time with his family.

“I’m also reading more poetry now,” he adds. One of his recent favourites is the Ukrainian translation of If, written by the poet Rudyard Kipling as a form of paternal advice to his son John. Kipling died without ever knowing what happened to John, who vanished while fighting in World War I. Devastated, he never wrote directly about his bereavement but continued composing jingoistic war poetry, which gradually lost favour with the younger generation as they found his vision of British imperialism hard to stomach. For the rest of his life, he would be consumed with regret: it was he who had pulled strings to have John join the army after he had been rejected twice on account of his poor eyesight.

As for Vladyslav, who is itching to rejoin his battalion on the front, he hopes to recover soon. “For the moment, I can’t do anything. But I will once I can.”

*For safety reasons, only first names have been used

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Japan honours Shinzo Abe with controversial state funeral | News

Japan prepares to bid farewell to assassinated leader as anger grows over the cost of the state funeral and his party’s ties to the Unification Church.

Japan is set to honour former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who was killed while on the campaign trail in July, with a rare state funeral that has deeply split the nation.

Some 4,000 mourners — including United States Vice President Kamala Harris and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi — are expected to attend Tuesday’s ceremony for Abe, who was Japan’s longest-serving prime minister. Hundreds of Japanese lined up outside the funeral venue in the capital, Tokyo, ahead of the official ceremony to offer floral tributes to Abe.

But the event, which is costing taxpayers some $11.5m, as well as revelations about ties between Abe, his ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and the South Korean Unification Church, has prompted a huge public outcry in Japan.

Critics consider the religious group a “predatory cult” responsible for forcibly extracting exorbitant donations from its followers in Japan.

The relatives of Abe’s assassin, Tetsuya Yamagami, say the 41-year-old’s mother donated some 100 million yen ($692,000) to the group, bankrupting his family. Yamagami has told investigators that he shot Abe on July 8 because of the prime minister’s support for the church. An internal LDP survey has since found that nearly half the governing party’s 379 national legislators also have ties with the church and affiliated groups. These range from attending the church’s events to receiving donations and accepting volunteers for election support.

Protesters took to the streets of Tokyo on Tuesday hours before Abe’s state funeral was due to get underway [Issei Kato/Reuters]

The revelations have caused Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s approval ratings to plunge below 30 percent.

But Kishida has defended the state funeral as necessary because of Abe’s achievements.

The incumbent leader, the heads of Japan’s lower and upper houses of parliament, and the chief justice will speak at Tuesday’s event.

It will begin at 2pm local time (05:00 GMT) with Abe’s ashes carried into the venue as an honour guard fires 19 rounds from a cannon.

Security has been tightened in Tokyo, with schools in the vicinity of the funeral venue closed and some 20,000 police officers mobilised to ensure security for the event. Protests against the funeral are expected, with some 62 percent of respondents surveyed by the Mainichi newspaper saying they do not approve of holding such an event.

Critics say Abe is also not deserving of the honour because of his legacy of divisive policies.

These include Abe’s push to revise Japan’s pacifist constitution, and nationalistic rhetoric that soured relations with neighbouring countries, including South Korea.

Members of Japan Self-Defense Forces stand in front of sacred funeral curtains creating shadows on the ground during a rehearsal for Abe's state funeral
Members of Japan Self-Defence Forces will take part in the funeral, which has divided opinion in Japan and led to a sharp drop in support for the government [Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters]

The former leader, at the time of his resignation for health reasons in 2020, had also become mired in scandals in which he was alleged to have misused political funds and engaged in cronyism. He was also facing criticism at the time for his poor handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and his determination to hold the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics despite the outbreak of the disease.

“Kishida’s decision to honour Abe with a state funeral without consulting the Diet or judiciary smacks of exactly the arrogance of power that the public associates with Abe. By a 2-1 margin the public opposes the state funeral and much of this opposition can be attributed to Abe’s toxic legacies and limited achievements,” said Jeffrey Kingston, professor of history and Asian studies at Temple University in Japan.

“Polls suggest few believe Kishida has handled the Church issue competently and this is part of the reason he has plunged in the polls. Supporters hope it will all blow over but the media spotlight may sustain the anger and now there are the Olympic bribery scandals that provide further reminders about the sleazy ways and means of the Abe government.”

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Japan lodges protest after Russia detains diplomat in Vladivostok | Politics News

Tatsunori Motoki, accused of spying by Russia’s FSB, was held for a few hours before being released and ordered to leave the country.

Japan has accused Russia of “unreasonable” behaviour and threatened “equivalent steps” after the FSB, the Russian federal security agency, detained a diplomat in the eastern port city of Vladivostok and accused him of being a spy.

Tatsunori Motoki, who worked at the Japanese Consulate General in the city, was released after a few hours and declared ‘persona non grata’, Japan’s Kyodo news agency said, citing an unnamed government source. It said Motoki had been ordered to leave Russia within 48 hours.

In Tokyo, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno described Motoki’s detention as “regrettable, unacceptable and unbelievable” and accused the FSB of taking the diplomat into custody in an “intimidating manner”.

Russia’s security agency announced it had detained a Japanese consul in Vladivostok on Monday for alleged espionage and ordered him to leave the country.

“A Japanese diplomat was detained red-handed while receiving classified information, in exchange for money, about Russia’s cooperation with another country in the Asia-Pacific region,” the FSB security service said in a statement, carried by Russian news agencies on Monday.

The diplomat had also been soliciting information about “the impact of Western sanctions” on the eastern Primorsky region, the FSB added, according to the agencies.

Russia’s foreign ministry said in a statement the diplomat had been ordered to leave the country within 48 hours, and the FSB had lodged a complaint with Japan.

Local media released footage allegedly showing Motoki receiving documents at what appears to be a restaurant, and him admitting to the accusations during FSB questioning.

Japan’s embassy in Russia earlier lodged a protest about the detention to Moscow’s foreign ministry, saying “it was a clear violation of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations” and the order to leave the country was “unreasonable”, according to Kyodo.

Russia considers Japan to be a “hostile” country, a designation it shares with all European Union countries, the United States and allies, including the United Kingdom and Australia.

Moscow and Tokyo have traded tit-for-tat sanctions since February 24 when Russia invaded Ukraine.

Even before the war, Tokyo’s relations with Moscow were complex. The two sides are involved in a dispute over islands Russia calls the Kurils and Japan the Northern Territories, which has prevented them from signing a post-war peace treaty.

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First female premier poised to take helm of Italy government

ROME — A party with neo-fascist roots won the most votes in Italy’s national election, setting the stage Monday for talks to form the country’s first far right-led government since World War II, with Giorgia Meloni at the helm as Italy’s first female premier.

Italy’s lurch to the far right immediately shifted Europe’s geopolitics, placing Meloni’s euroskeptic Brothers of Italy in a position to lead a founding member of the European Union and its third-largest economy. Italy’s left warned of “dark days” ahead and vowed to keep Italy in the heart of Europe.

Right-wing leaders across Europe immediately hailed 45-year-old Meloni’s victory as sending a historic, nationalist message to Brussels. It followed a right-wing victory in Sweden and recent gains by the far-right in France and Spain.

Still, turnout in the Italian election Sunday was a historic low of 64%, and pollsters suggested voters stayed home in protest, disenchanted by the backroom deals that had created the country’s last three governments and the mash-up of parties in outgoing Premier Mario Draghi’s national unity government.

By contrast, Meloni was viewed as a new face in the merry-go-round of Italian governments and many Italians appeared to be voting for change, analysts said.

The victory of Meloni’s just 10-year-old Brothers of Italy was more about Italian dissatisfaction with the decades-long status quo than any surge in neo-fascist or far-right sentiment, said Nathalie Tocci, director of the Rome-based Institute of International Affairs.

“I would say the main reason why a big chunk of (voters) … will vote for this party is simply because it’s the new kid on the block,” she said.

The election’s sharp swing to the right, “confirms that the Italian electorate remains fickle,″ said London-based political analyst Wolfango Piccoli, noting that an estimated 30% of voters went for a different party than their choice in 2018 elections.

Meloni, whose party traces its origins to the postwar, neo-fascist Italian Social Movement, tried to sound a unifying tone, noting that Italians had finally been able to determine their leaders.

“If we are called to govern this nation, we will do it for everyone. We will do it for all Italians and we will do it with the aim of uniting the people,” said. “shechose us. We will not betray it.”

Near-final results showed the center-right coalition netting 44% of the parliamentary vote, with Meloni’s Brothers of Italy snatching 26% in its biggest win in its decade-long meteoric rise. Her coalition partners divided up the remainder, with the anti-immigrant League party led by Matteo Salvini winning 9% and Forza Italia of ex-Premier Silvio Berlusconi taking around 8% of the vote.

The center-left Democratic Party and its allies had around 26% support, while the populist 5-Star Movement — which had been the biggest vote-getter in the 2018 parliamentary election — saw its share of the vote halved to 15%.

While the center-right was the clear winner, the formation of a government is still weeks away and will involve consultations among party leaders and with President Sergio Mattarella. In the meantime, Draghi remains in a caretaker role.

The elections, which took place six months early after Draghi’s government collapsed, came at a crucial time for Europe as it faces Russia’s war in Ukraine and related soaring energy costs that have hit ordinary Italians as well as industry.

A Meloni-led government is largely expected to follow Italy’s current foreign policy, including her pro-NATO stance and strong support for supplying Ukraine with weapons to defend itself against Russia’s invasion, even as her coalition allies take a different tone.

Both Berlusconi and Salvini have ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin. While both have distanced themselves from his invasion of Ukraine, Salvini has warned that EU sanctions against Moscow are hurting Italian industry. Berlusconi has even excused Putin’s invasion as an event foisted upon him by pro-Moscow separatists in the Donbas.

A bigger shift and one likely to cause friction with other EU nations is likely to come over migration. Meloni has called for a naval blockade to prevent migrant boats from leaving North African shores, and has proposed screening potential asylum-seekers in Africa, not Europe.

Salvini has made clear he wants the League to recapture the interior minister post, where he once imposed a tough anti-migrant policy. But he may face an internal leadership challenge, with Meloni’s party outperforming the League even in its northeastern stronghold.

On relations with the EU, analysts note that for all her euroskeptic rhetoric, Meloni moderated her message during the campaign and has little room to maneuver, given the economic windfall Italy is receiving from Brussels in coronavirus recovery funds. Italy secured 191.5 billion euros, the biggest chunk of the EU’s 750 billion-euro recovery package, and is bound by certain reform and investment milestones to receive it all.

That said, Meloni has criticized the EU’s recent recommendation to suspend 7.5 billion euros in funding to Hungary over concerns about democratic backsliding, defending autocratic Prime Minister Viktor Orban as the elected leader in a democratic system.

French far-right leader Marine Le Pen praised Meloni for having “resisted the threats of an anti-democratic and arrogant European Union.”

Santiago Abascal, the leader of Spain’s far-right Vox opposition party, tweeted that Meloni “has shown the way for a proud and free Europe of sovereign nations that can cooperate on behalf of everybody’s security and prosperity.”

Meloni is chair of the right-wing European Conservative and Reformist group in the European Parliament, which includes her Brothers of Italy, Poland’s nationalist Law and Justice Party, Spain’s far-right Vox and the right-wing Sweden Democrats, which just won big there on a platform of cracking down on crime and limiting immigration.

“The trend that emerged two weeks ago in Sweden was confirmed in Italy,” acknowledged Democratic Party leader Enrico Letta, calling Monday a “sad day for Italy, for Europe.”

“We expect dark days. We fought in every way to avoid this outcome,″ Letta said at a somber news conference. “(The Democratic Party) will not allow Italy to leave the heart of Europe.”

Thomas Christiansen, professor of political science at Rome’s Luiss University and the executive editor of the Journal of European Integration, noted that Italy has a tradition of pursuing a consistent foreign and European policy that is bigger than individual party interests.

“Whatever Meloni might be up to will have to be moderated by her coalition partners and indeed with the established consensus of Italian foreign policy,” Christiansen said.


Colleen Barry contributed from Milan.

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