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EU awards top human rights prize to the people of Ukraine

BRUSSELS (AP) — The people of Ukraine and their representatives were awarded the European Union’s top human rights prize Wednesday’s for their resistance to Russia’s invasion and ongoing war.

The EU award, named for Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov, was created in 1988 to honor individuals or groups who defend human rights and fundamental freedoms. Sakharov, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, died in 1989.

It’s the second straight year EU lawmakers used the Sakharov Prize to send a message to the Kremlin. Imprisoned Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny won it last year.

When they nominated Ukraine, EU lawmakers praised Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy for his “bravery, endurance and devotion to his people” and highlighted the roles of Ukraine’s state emergency services.

Among others, they also cited Yulia Pajevska, the founder of the medical evacuation unit Angels of Taira, human rights activist Oleksandra Matviychuk, the Yellow Ribbon civil resistance movement and Ivan Fedorov, the mayor of the occupied city of Melitopol.

Ukrainians have demonstrated resilience in the nearly 8-month-old war despite an uptick in attacks in recent weeks.

Since launching a counteroffensive in late August, Ukrainian forces have reclaimed broad swaths of the country, dealing a heavy blow to Russia.

“They are standing up for what they believe in. Fighting for our values. Protecting democracy, freedom and rule of law. Risking their lives for us,” European Parliament President Roberta Metsola wrote on Twitter. “No one is more deserving. Congratulations to the brave people of Ukraine!”

Samuel Petrequin, The Associated Press