A yearning for close connection, for something meaningful amid a seismic, terrifying event that won’t end, is what brought two dozen people to a recent“cuddle” party.

Cuddle parties started before the war, but the people who came two Sundays ago — a mix of men and women from their early 20s to mid-60s — said they really needed them now.

The cuddlers gathered in a large, tent-like structure near the river, and as new age music played, they lied on floor cushions in a big warm heap. Some stroked their neighbor’s hair. Others clutched each other tightly, eyes closed, like it was the last embrace they’d ever share with anyone. After about 15 to 20 minutes, the heap stirred awake.

The cuddlers opened their eyes, untangled themselves, stood up and smoothed out their pants. The whole idea is to seek bodily comfort from curling up with a stranger. They found new cuddling partners and new positions.

The instructor was clear that none of this was supposed to be sexual or romantic. But still, it looked like a G-rated orgy.

This cuddling is another dimension of Kyiv’s party scene at the moment: Many social gatherings are specifically engineered to provide solace.

Maksym Yasnyi, a graphic designer, just held a 24-hour yoga party, which he said was “really cool” but it wasn’t like going out before the war.

“Before the war, Kyiv nightlife was sparkling with different colors,” he said. “You could spend the whole night going from party to party. If I allow myself to think about this, I’ll make myself really upset.”

Now, when it hits 10, Kyiv radiates a nervous energy. People drinking on the street, or out by the river, check their watches. They cap the clear plastic bottles of cider they were swigging, get up and walk quickly.

Cars move faster. More run yellow lights. The clock is ticking.

Uber prices triple, if you can find one.

Some young people, seeing the impossibility of hailing a ride, say bye to their friends and duck their heads and start running home, desperate to beat curfew.

At the stroke of 11, Kyiv stops. Nothing moves. The sidewalks lie empty.

All that energy that was building, building, building, suddenly plunges into a stunning, citywide hush.

Oleksandra Mykolyshyn contributed reporting.

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Live Updates: Taking on Russia With West’s Arms, Ukraine Goes on Offense

KRAKOW, Poland — Ukrainian troops, emboldened by sophisticated weapons and long-range artillery supplied by the West, went on the offensive Friday against Russian forces in the northeast, seeking to drive them back from two key cities as the war plunged more deeply into a grinding, town-for-town battle.

After weeks of intense fighting along a 300-mile-long front, neither side has been able to achieve a major breakthrough, with one army taking a few villages one day, only to lose just as many in the following days. In its latest effort to reclaim territory, the Ukrainian military said that “fierce battles” were being waged as it fought to retake Russia-controlled areas around Kharkiv in the northeast and Izium in the east.

The stepped-up combat came as the White House announced on Friday that President Biden would meet virtually on Sunday with President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine and the leaders of the G7, which includes Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States.

Additionally, President Biden is sending a new security package to Ukraine worth $150 million, according to an administration official, who says it will include 25,000 artillery rounds, counter-artillery radars, jamming equipment and other field equipment.

Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, noted that the leaders would convene as President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia prepares to celebrate the annual holiday of Victory Day on Monday with military parades and speeches commemorating the Soviet Union’s triumph over Nazi Germany.

The holiday has intensified fears in Ukraine and some Western capitals that Mr. Putin could exploit the occasion to expand his Feb. 24 invasion, after his initial drive failed to rout the Ukrainian military and topple the government.

“While he expected to be marching through the streets of Kyiv, that’s actually not what is going to happen,” Ms. Psaki said. She called the G7 meeting “an opportunity to not only show how unified the West is in confronting the aggression and the invasion by President Putin, but also to show that unity requires work.”

Ukraine on Friday urged civilians to brace for heavier assaults ahead of Victory Day in Russia, warning them to avoid large gatherings and putting in place new curfews from Ivano-Frankivsk in the west to Zaporizhzhia in the southeast.

Credit…Daniel Berehulak for The New York Times

Ukrainian police forces were also placed on heightened alert ahead of the holiday, which will be commemorated in Russia with military parades in Moscow and hundreds of other cities.

Vadym Denysenko, an adviser to Ukraine’s Interior Ministry, warned civilians that they could risk their lives by gathering in crowded places.

“We all remember what happened at the train station in Kramatorsk,” Mr. Denysenko said on Telegram, referring to a devastating missile strike in that eastern city last month, which killed dozens of people as they crowded on railway platforms, trying the flee the invasion.

“Be vigilant,” Mr. Denysenko said. “This is the most important thing.”

The regional governor of Luhansk in eastern Ukraine, Sergei Haidai, warned that Russian forces were preparing for a “major offensive” in the next few days against a pair of eastern cities, Severodonetsk and Popsana. He assailed what he called “continued horror” in the region, where he said that the latest Russian shelling had killed two people and destroyed dozens of houses.

The pace of Russian missile strikes across Ukraine has been intensifying in recent days as Moscow tries to slow the flow of Western arms across the country. But as with so many aspects of the war, uncertainty about Mr. Putin’s intentions runs deep.

Credit…Lynsey Addario for The New York Times

There is rampant speculation that he might use the upcoming holiday to convert what he calls a “special military operation” into an all-out war, which would create a justification for a mass mobilization of Russian troops and set the stage for a more broad-ranging conflict. Kremlin officials have denied any such plans. But they also had denied plans to invade Ukraine.

Ukrainian officials have said that a military draft in Russia could provoke a backlash among its citizens, many of whom, polls show, still view the war as a largely distant conflict filtered through the convoluted and sometimes conflicting narratives provided by state-controlled media.

“General mobilization in Russia is beneficial to us,” Oleksei Arestovych, an adviser to Mr. Zelensky’s chief of staff, said during an interview on Ukrainian television this week. “It can lead to a revolution.”

Some Western analysts speculate that Mr. Putin may instead point to the territory that Moscow has already seized in eastern Ukraine to bolster his false claims that Russia is liberating the region from Nazis.

The Pentagon, for its part, has avoided stoking speculation about Mr. Putin’s Victory Day plans.

“What they plan to do or say on Victory Day, that’s really up to them,” John F. Kirby, the Pentagon spokesman, said on Thursday. “I don’t think we have a perfect sense.”

Fears that Russia could intensify its assault came as the United Nations Security Council adopted a statement on Friday supporting efforts by the U.N. secretary general, António Guterres, to broker a diplomatic resolution to the war.

The statement, initiated by Mexico and Norway, was the first action regarding Ukraine that the council had unanimously approved since the invasion began. Russia supported the statement, which did not call the conflict a “war,” a term the Kremlin forbids.

Mr. Zelensky insisted on Friday that peace talks cannot resume until Russian forces pull back to where they were before the invasion. Still, he did not foreclose the possibility of a negotiated settlement.

Credit…Daniel Berehulak for The New York Times

“Not all the bridges are destroyed,” he said, speaking remotely at a virtual event held by Chatham House, a British research organization.

Alexey Zaitsev, a Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman, said on Friday that talks between Russia and Ukraine were “in a state of stagnation,” Russian state media reported.

Mr. Zaitsev blamed NATO countries for prolonging the war by shipping billions of dollars in arms to Ukraine, even as those countries have urged Mr. Putin to withdraw his troops.

“This leads to an extension of hostilities, more destruction of civilian infrastructure and civilian casualties,” he said.

Mr. Zelensky said that Russian propagandists had spent years fueling “hatred” that had driven Russian soldiers to “hunt” civilians, destroy cities and commit the kind of atrocities seen in the besieged southern port of Mariupol. Much of the city, once home to more than 400,000 people, has been leveled, and it has become a potent symbol of the devastation wrought by Russia in Ukraine.

Mr. Zelensky said Russia’s determination to destroy the last Ukrainian fighters holed up with desperate civilians in bunkers beneath the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol only underscored the “cruelty” that has defined the invasion.

“This is terrorism and hatred,” he said.

On Friday, about 50 women, children and elderly people who had been trapped beneath the Azovstal plant in Mariupol were evacuated in a humanitarian convoy, according to a high-ranking Ukrainian official and Russian state media. The official, Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereschuk, said the evacuation had been “extremely slow” because Russian troops violated a cease-fire.

Nearly 500 people have managed to leave the Azovstal plant, Mariupol and surrounding areas in recent days with help from United Nations and the Red Cross, according to Mr. Guterres.

As the fighting drags on, concerns are growing that the war could exacerbate a global hunger crisis.

Credit…Finbarr O’Reilly for The New York Times

The United Nations said on Friday that there was mounting evidence that Russian troops had looted tons of Ukrainian grain and destroyed grain storage facilities, adding to a disruption in exports that has already caused a surge in global prices, with devastating consequences for poor countries.

At the same time, the organization’s anti-hunger agency, the World Food Program, called for the reopening of ports in the Odesa area of southern Ukraine so that food produced in the war-torn country can flow freely to the rest of the world. Ukraine, a leading grain grower, had some 14 million tons in storage available for export, but Russia’s blockade of the country’s Black Sea ports has prevented distribution.

“Right now, Ukraine’s grain silos are full,” said David Beasley, executive director of the World Food Program, while “44 million people around the world are marching towards starvation.”

Marc Santora and Cora Engelbrecht reported from Krakow, and Michael Levenson from New York. Reporting was contributed by Dan Bilefsky from Montreal, Nick Cumming-Bruce from Geneva, Rick Gladstone from Eastham, Mass., Zolan Kanno-Youngs from Washington, and Farnaz Fassihi from New York.

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Germany’s Vaccine Mandate Forges Unlikely Coalition of Protestors

NUREMBERG, Germany — Maria Liebermann came wrapped in fairy lights and waved a peace flag featuring a white dove. Martin Schmidt carried a Germany flag with the word RESIST scrawled across it in capital letters.

She is a self-described “eco-leftist.” He votes for the far-right Alternative for Germany. They disagree on everything from immigration to climate change, but on a recent Monday they marched side by side against the prospect of a general Covid vaccine mandate, shouting “Freedom!”

At the start of the pandemic, Germany was widely lauded as a model of unity in combating the coronavirus. A general trust in government encouraged citizens to comply with lockdowns, mask guidance and social distancing restrictions.

But that confidence in the authorities has steadily waned as the pandemic enters its third year and the fight has shifted toward vaccines, exposing deep rifts in German society and setting back efforts to combat Covid cases.

death threats from vaccine opponents in recent weeks.

In western Germany, the picture is more complicated.

A well-established tradition of homeopathy and natural cures has meant that a certain distrust of science and medicine has long been widely accepted in Germany’s middle class. Homeopathic doctors are commonplace, their services reimbursed by public health insurers. Germany’s new age esoteric industry — books, crystals, courses and the like — brings in an estimated 20 billion euros in revenue a year. Bavaria has the highest number of certified healers in the country.

unlikely coalition of protesters that includes naturalists, neo-Nazis and ordinary citizens alike. In China, authorities said that the 13 million residents in Xi’an will be allowed to travel in and out of the city, ending a 32-day lockdown.

Sophia, a 22-year-old who described herself as an “energetic healer,” and who was chatting to friends about an hour before the Nuremberg march, lamented the lack of opposition coming from parties on the left like the Greens that had traditionally challenged the status quo.

“Now they’re all backing the vaccine mandate,” she said. In the recent German election, Sophia, who declined to give her last name, supported the Basis party, a newly founded anti-vax party that garnered less than 3 percent of the vote.

Sophia comes from a family of doctors, and both her parents and her older brother got fully vaccinated and have urged her to do the same. But she is concerned that the vaccine was developed too fast, and doesn’t trust the government to disclose any serious side effects.

“My body is telling me that this is not a good idea,” she said. “I have a pretty good connection to my body.”

Her friends concurred. “It’s not about keeping us healthy, it’s about giving us all a QR code,” said Stefan, a 35-year-old father of five who advocates civil disobedience and also did not want his full name used. “They rule with fear. It’s a kind of tyranny.”

“Mainstream science is a religion,” he added.

Distrust in “mainstream science,” and mainstream politics, is one thing esoterics and the far right can agree on, said Mr. Grande of the WZB.

“The common denominator is distrust,” he said. “What unites these two very different groups is an alienation from traditional parties, from science, from media.”

Mr. Grande said the high levels of trust in government shown by Germans early in the pandemic, when nine in 10 backed the coronavirus restrictions, began to erode after the first lockdown as weariness with the pandemic set in.

The danger now, Mr. Grande said, is that the weekly contact with the far right on the streets normalizes that group for those who belong to what he calls “the distrustful center.” Both camps share a belief in conspiracy theories, which have the power to radicalize the movement beyond the fringes.

The vaccine mandate, which will be debated in parliament at the end of the month, is the decisive driver of the protests. “The debate about vaccine mandate is oil into the fire of the radicalization,” Mr. Grande said.

“I fear we have a difficult political phase ahead of us in this pandemic,” he said.

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The Caribbean, united by tourism, is divided by Covid.

On the glassy blue waters surrounding the U.S. Virgin Islands, catamarans and pleasure yachts have packed the shoreline for the past year — a scene so busy and crowded that it would have been notable even before the pandemic.

The business of charter yachts is booming, and is expected to pump at least $88 million into the local economy this season, almost double the figure from 2019, according to Marketplace Excellence, which represents the U.S. territory’s department of tourism.

Less than 12 miles away, the quiet waterways of the British Virgin Islands present a different story. Relatively few boats have harbored there since last spring, when Britain mostly shuttered the territory to international tourists. Strict Covid safety protocols have kept many away.

Before the pandemic, the Caribbean was the world’s most tourism-reliant region, according to recent calculations by the World Travel Tourism Council. Made up of dozens of sovereign nations, territories and dependencies that often reacted disparately to the virus, the region was struck unequally by the coronavirus.

drastically declined, sinking the region’s economic output 58 percent last year.

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Conflict Between Israel and Palestinians Continues to Escalate

JERUSALEM — A new front opened in the military showdown between the Israeli Army and Palestinian militants in Gaza on Wednesday as a wave of mob violence between Jews and Arabs spread across several Israeli cities, leading to riots and attacks in the streets as rockets and missiles streaked across the sky.

Israel said it assassinated 10 senior militants and continued to pound both military and residential areas across the Gaza Strip with airstrikes, while Hamas, the Islamist group that rules Gaza, and its allies continued to fire rockets into civilian areas across central and southern Israel.

More than 1,000 rockets had been fired from Gaza by Wednesday night, most of them intercepted by an antimissile defense system, the Israeli military said.

expel several families from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah, East Jerusalem, approached — a case that quickly became a stand-in for historic expulsions of Palestinians from their land elsewhere in Israel.

The situation finally boiled over after a police raid on one of Islam’s holiest sites, the Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, on Monday, which the police said was in response to stone-throwing by Palestinian demonstrators.

Hamas launched long-range rockets at Jerusalem on Monday evening, prompting Israel to respond with airstrikes. The military conflict also unleashed a wave of protests and rioting in Arab areas across Israel that night.

discriminatory laws, not least a recent law that downgraded the status of the Arabic language and said that only Jews had the right to determine the nature of the Israeli state.

“The way that we are treated is as though we shouldn’t be here,” said Diana Buttu, a Palestinian political analyst from Haifa, a northern city in Israel, and a former legal adviser to the Palestine Liberation Organization. “We are the people who they mistakenly did not ethnically cleanse from this place.”

In the central city of Lod, the government declared a state of emergency early Wednesday after a synagogue, school and several vehicles were burned by Arab rioters on Monday and Tuesday nights.

A Palestinian citizen, Moussa Hassouna, was shot dead by a Jewish resident during the disturbances on Monday night, and another wave of unrest followed his funeral 24 hours later.

The Israeli police said that Arab mobs were pulling Jews from their homes and trying to kill them.

“I feel like it’s 100 years ago, and I’m a defenseless Jew in the pogroms,” said Shabtai Pessin, 27, standing in a burned-out classroom at a religious school in Lod. “What’s our sin? Wanting a Jewish state after 2000 years of exile?”

In the northern city of Acre, a popular Jewish fish restaurant was set on fire, while Arab Bedouins attacked police stations and passing cars in the Negev desert, in southern Israel.

On Wednesday, these riots prompted crowds of Jews to respond.

In the cities of Or Akiva and Beersheva, Jews stoned the cars of people they believed to be Arab. In Tiberias, they threw rocks at hotels housing Arabs, who hurled objects from their windows in return. Cars were set on fire in several towns. And an Arab mob in Haifa ransacked a Jewish-owned hotel.

“It’s happening as we speak,” the hotel’s owner, Evan Fallenberg, said by phone on Wednesday night. “People are saying this is a rupture that we won’t be able to overcome. I don’t believe that — I know my friendships are lasting ones. But it is going to put everything to the test. We’re headed into something extremely difficult and dangerous, and I don’t know where this is going to end or how.”

Reporting was contributed by Gabby Sobelman from Rehovot, Israel; Irit Pazner Garshowitz and Myra Noveck from Jerusalem; Iyad Abuhweila from Gaza City; Megan Specia from London; and Annie Karni from Washington.

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Germany Is Seeing Virus Cases Go Down and Vaccinations Go Up

BERLIN — Dr. Peter Weitkamp placed an ad in eBay’s classifieds last week, offering appointments for an AstraZeneca vaccine — “free/to give away” — to anyone over 60. Many of his own patients didn’t want it, since the German government had spent months questioning the vaccine.

But within a day, his practice in Kirchlengern, in the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia, was inundated with calls from people seeking the remaining 80 to 90 doses, including some offering to drive in from out of state. Another family doctor got a similar response after setting up a drive-through vaccination center in a grocery store parking lot to administer AstraZeneca shots her that her own patients had rejected.

To the doctors, the response was proof that plenty of Germans were willing, even eager, for doses of AstraZeneca. Days later, the German government apparently agreed and relaxed previous restrictions that limited the AstraZeneca vaccine to certain age groups over concerns about rare but dangerous blood clots.

vaccine passport to make travel within the European Union easier and Germany’s upper house of Parliament moving to exempt the fully vaccinated from many restrictions — social distancing and wearing a mask will still be required of everyone — many Germans who qualified for an AstraZeneca shot were reluctant to get one. That was partly because the rival two-dose vaccine from BioNTech and Pfizer could be completed in only six weeks, whereas the recommended wait between shots for the AstraZeneca one was 12 weeks.

“We will make a lot more flexibility possible,” Mr. Spahn told the public television station WDR on Wednesday. “Many people want to have their second shot earlier, with an eye on summer, and that is possible with Astra.”

The Lancet in February said the vaccine provided protection of more than 80 percent if the second shot was administered after 12 weeks, while after less than six weeks, it provided only 55 percent protection.

“The considerable damage to the image of AstraZeneca’s vaccine, which is still unjustified, is also because of the uncertainty caused by the disastrous communication of its possible side effects by politicians and authorities among the population,” said Ulrich Weigeldt, chairman of the German Association of Family Physicians.

German health authorities initially limited its application to younger adults because there wasn’t enough information on how older adults responded. Then they suspended it for several weeks because of reports of cases of blood clots accompanied by low platelet counts, before reintroducing it but only for individuals older than 60.

began reopening retail shops and outdoor dining, at a time when Germans were still wrangling over the terms of a new lockdown. That included nightly curfews to slow a surging third wave of the virus and a cumbersome vaccine sign-up system riddled with bureaucratic hurdles, and overtaxed hotlines.

“The British of course are all laughing, ‘Oh, the Germans again,’” said Henrike Thalenhorst, who is completing her residency in the office of Dr. Weitkamp, who offered the AstraZeneca appointments on eBay. “They are thinking, ‘While they are filling out six pieces of paper and waiting for an appointment we are all vaccinated with Astra and hitting the pubs.’”

But while AstraZeneca’s links to Britain made it a source of local pride, for Germans, similar sentiments surround the BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine, which was developed by a start-up based in the western city of Mainz and known to some as “the Mercedes-Benz of vaccines.”

In a letter to the Neue Westfälische newspaper, one man described his decision to hold out against an offer of AstraZeneca as a matter of national pride. “As a not-yet-vaccinated 67-year-old German patriot,” wrote Lutz Schaal, from Bielefeld, “I am waiting for my BioNTech inoculation.”

Christopher F. Schuetze contributed reporting from Berlin and Megan Specia from London.

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Covid in Hamburg: How Small Businesses Are Coping

Shops in Hamburg, Germany, have been pushed to the brink by lockdowns and curfews in the pandemic and the uncertainty of when a return to something like normal may happen.

Jack Ewing and

Germany is known for luxury cars, machine tools and other goods that have protected the overall economy from the worst effects of the pandemic. But Germany is also a nation of shopkeepers, small operations whose employees are often from the same family.

These businesses have been pushed to the brink of existence by lockdowns, quarantines and other restrictions that often change from day to day. Vaccines are in short supply and intensive care units are filling up, prompting Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government to impose a nationwide curfew last month in areas with high infection rates.

In the port city of Hamburg, retailers are improvising to try to survive.

Théodora Vezo, the owner of a boutique that bears her name, took customers by appointment and changed her window displays of clothing and accessories much more often.

German Retail Association said they feared bankruptcy.

More than two-thirds of Ms. Bouquet’s hat sales used to come from theater productions, which are at a standstill. “That was the last straw,” Ms. Bouquet said. Her revenue fell by about half last year. While she will continue to make hats to order for theater customers in her atelier, she said, she closed the storefront permanently in February.

Paula Haase contributed reporting.

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Europeans Question Return of American Tourists

Spain, though limiting its own citizens’ movements, has for weeks been open to visitors with negative PCR tests from the rest of Europe, and tourists have been flocking to places like Madrid, which has more relaxed restrictions than their home cities. Most of its cultural attractions are open with Covid protocols, and the city’s curfew is 11 p.m., compared to much earlier curfews in other parts of the country and Europe.

Residents there were sanguine about the idea of American visitors. “My neighborhood is already full of unvaccinated French people working remotely, so I think it’s great,” said Naroa Quiros, an interior designer specializing in restaurants, about the decision to open the country up to vaccinated Americans. “Madrid needs it and certainly businesses need it.”

In Turkey, where tourism is the lifeblood of the economy, the European Union’s announcement came just as the country was about to enter a full nationwide lockdown to curb a surge in coronavirus infections and deaths, which have reached record levels. The Turkish Health Ministry recorded 37,312 new Covid-19 infections and 353 deaths over a 24-hour period on Monday.

Under the new measures, Turkish residents will be required to mostly stay at home except for grocery shopping trips and urgent medical treatment. All restaurants, cafes, bars and nonessential shops will be closed. As they have been through much of the pandemic, tourists will be exempted from the restrictions.

“At a time when Europe is entering a phase of reopening, we need to rapidly cut our case numbers to below 5,000 not to be left behind,” President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Monday. “Otherwise we will inevitably face heavy costs in every area, from tourism to trade and education.”

There were, of course, practical questions about what kind of “vaccine passports” might be developed and concerns about whether amid a slow vaccine rollout in France, for instance, even vaccinated Americans could impact the evolution of the outbreak.

Michele Gargiulo, 40, who co-owns and runs LibrOsteria, a bookshop cafe in Milan that was a tourist attraction before the pandemic, said that though he is concerned about safety, he believes that “it could be tourists just like it could be anything else.”

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Armed Groups Step Into Venezuela as Lawlessness Grows

GUARERO, Venezuela — They bring drinking water to residents in the arid scrublands, teach farming workshops and offer medical checkups. They mediate land disputes, fine cattle rustlers, settle divorces, investigate crimes and punish thieves.

They’re not police officers, civil servants or members of the Venezuela government, which has all but disappeared from this impoverished part of the country.

Quite the opposite: They belong to one of Latin America’s most notorious rebel groups, considered terrorists by the United States and the European Union for carrying out bombings and kidnappings over decades of violence.

Venezuela’s economic collapse has so thoroughly gutted the country that insurgents have embedded themselves across large stretches of its territory, seizing upon the nation’s undoing to establish mini-states of their own.

brutal armed groups known as syndicates that dominate illegal mining manage the supply of electricity and fuel, while also providing medical equipment to clinics in the towns they control.

Along Venezuela’s 1,400-mile border with Colombia, the ELN and other insurgents hold sway. Just a decade ago, the town of Paraguaipoa in the Guajira peninsula had several banks, a post office and a court. All have since closed. The hospital is out of basic medicines. The power goes out for days on end. Water pipes have been dry for years.

proven oil reserves in the world.

“There’s nothing here, just slow death,” said Isabel Jusayu, a Wayuu weaver in the town of Guarero.

The tourists who bought her woven purses and hammocks have disappeared with the pandemic. Her family now survives by biking to Colombia to sell scavenged scrap metal every week. But Ms. Jusayu has been homebound because of a stray bullet that injured her during the recent gang war.

When violence broke out in Guarero in 2018, the police and soldiers largely stood by as criminals fought brutally over the smuggling routes, according to residents and local rights activists.

Gunmen terrorized neighborhoods just steps away from military barracks, spraying houses with bullets, they said. The shooting became so common in Guarero that pet parrots began imitating machine gun fire. Residents said their children were traumatized.

As the violence spiraled, entire Wayuu clans became targets. Magaly Baez said 10 of her relatives were killed and that her entire village, located along a major gasoline trafficking route, was demolished. Most residents fled to Colombia.

“We suffered hunger, humiliation,” said Ms. Baez, “listening all day to children crying: ‘Mami, when are we going to eat?’”

Residents spoke of massacres, forced curfews and mass graves that brought to their remote corner of Venezuela the kind of terror Colombia experienced during its decades-long civil war.

“As long as you stayed alive, you stayed silent,” said Ms. Baez.

Some people dared to report homicides, but it didn’t lead to charges, residents said. The crimes went unpunished — until the ELN stepped in to help last year, said Mr. Hernández, the Wayuu leader in Guarero. His account was corroborated by interviews with dozens of other Indigenous residents.

As the ELN took control, the fighting subsided last year, and refugees began trickling back. Street life resumed in previously deserted towns, and young men went back to ferrying fuel drums from Colombia on bicycles and motorbikes to resell in Venezuela.

In Guarero, when the heat cools at sunset, children once again gather at the soccer field where Junior Uriana, a 17-year-old, was shot dead in 2018.

His aunt, Zenaida Montiel, buried him in her backyard in a simple grave next to her son, José Miguel, who was murdered a week earlier. Ms. Montiel said she still didn’t know why they died. She was too scared to go to the police or ask for help, she said.

Now, things have changed, she said.

“A new law is here now,” she said. “I feel safer.”

Reporting was contributed by María Iguarán from Guarero; Isayen Herrera from Caracas, Venezuela; and Sheyla Urdaneta from Maracaibo, Venezuela.

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