SIVERSK DISTRICT, Ukraine — One of the few civilians still driving on a road leading toward the battle front, Oleksandr Chaplik skidded to a stop and leaned out the car window to swap information with a villager.
He was taking supplies back to his village, one of a handful still in Ukrainian hands that lie in the path of the Russian advance.
“We are surrounded on all sides,” said Mr. Chaplik, 55, a dairy and livestock farmer. “It is the second month without light, without water, without gas, without communication, without the internet, without news. Basically, horror.”
“But people need to eat,” he said. “I am a businessman. So I am doing my job.”
Mr. Chaplik owns about 75 acres of land near the city of Sievierodonetsk, where Russian and Ukrainian troops have been battling for control in heavy street fighting in recent days. The countryside around his farm is under almost constant bombardment by Russian forces trying to encircle the easternmost Ukrainian forces and lay siege to Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk.
street fighting raged in the contested city of Sievierodonetsk. Jens Stoltenberg, NATO’s secretary general, warned that the conflict appeared to have become a “war of attrition” and advised allies to be prepared for “the long haul.”
“My nerves are cracking,” he said, as he declined another phone call. “I am working 14 to 15 hours a day. Physically I am tired.”
So now he is arranging for his son to bring in a mobile antenna, so the villagers can be in touch with their relatives.
He sees more problems on the horizon. The war has disrupted farming and food production to such an extent that people in eastern Ukraine could go hungry in coming months, he warned.
The potatoes are already planted, which will provide food for the villagers, he said, but meat and milk will become scarce.
“If I do not prepare feed for my cows they will die this winter,” he said. “I cannot cut the hay because of the cluster bombs in the fields and I need 12,000 bales of hay and I do not have the workers.”
And as he follows the progress of the war, and the steady advance of Russian troops, he said it was likely that they would seize control of the village and he would lose the farm that he built up over more than 20 years.
Separatist forces backed by Russia seized the area in 2014 but were pushed back after a few months. But this time he said he did not expect President Vladimir V. Putin to stop. The Russian leader wants to seize a swath of the country from the city of Kharkiv in the northeast to Odessa in the southwest, he said.
“He will not calm down,” he said. “He will fight for a year, two, three, until he reaches his goal.”
Mr. Chaplik has been slaughtering his pigs, so only one remains, slumbering in his pen. The newborn calves will have to be slaughtered too, he said. “It’s a shame.”
If the Russians came, he added, he would have to leave his guard dogs, six German shepherds. “I could not bear to put them down,” he said. “I will let them loose.”
If the shells came too close, he would take his workers and leave, he said. “I will start anew,” he said. “Give me a little piece of land, in Ukraine, in the United States, wherever. I can build a great business again.”
BRUSSELS — Reverberations from the Ukraine war widened on Wednesday, jolting energy markets and spilling across borders, as Russia responded to the West’s escalating arms shipments and economic penalties by halting gas supplies to two European nations and threatening further unspecified retaliation.
The European Union’s top official described as “blackmail” the announcement that Russia was suspending shipments of natural gas to Poland and Bulgaria. Though the immediate impact was likely to be limited, the cutoff was the Kremlin’s toughest retaliation yet against a U.S.-led alliance that President Vladimir V. Putin has accused of waging a proxy war aimed at weakening Russia.
Even as news of a U.S.-Russia prisoner exchange offered a glimmer of hope for diplomatic engagement, Mr. Putin warned that he would order more “counterstrikes” against any adversaries that “create threats of a strategic nature unacceptable to Russia.”
At the same time, a series of explosions across Ukraine’s borders stoked fears that the war, now in its third month, might spread. Blasts were reported in three Russian districts on Wednesday morning, and suspicion fell on Ukrainian forces, which are benefiting from increasingly sophisticated weapons and intelligence from the United States and its allies.
Those blasts came a day after explosions shook Transnistria, a pro-Russian breakaway region of Moldova, on Ukraine’s southwestern flank. Some analysts — and Ukrainian and Moldovan officials — said it was likely that Russia, which has thousands of troops in Transnistria, had orchestrated the explosions to create a pretext to invade Ukraine from that direction.
Taken together, the developments raised the risk of worse to come.
“What’s the ‘so what’ of this escalatory cycle? Further escalation becomes more likely as animosity builds,” said Cliff Kupchan, chairman of the Eurasia Group, a political risk consulting organization. “The chance that Russia hits a staging facility in Poland goes up. The risk that NATO supplies aircraft to Ukraine goes up. Ukraine could strike bigger targets in Russia. Moscow could cut gas to more European nations.”
Economists warned that Europe could face a sharp slowdown of growth if the cutoff of sales by Gazprom, Russia’s state-owned gas company, spreads — or if Europe imposes an embargo on Russian gas. European natural gas prices surged as much as 28 percent on Wednesday and the euro’s value fell below $1.06 for the first time in five years on rising concerns about energy security and a slowdown in European growth. The currency has fallen nearly 4 percent against the U.S. dollar in April alone.
Gazprom’s stated reason for halting gas deliveries was the refusal by Poland and Bulgaria to pay in rubles, a new requirement Russia announced last month, despite the fact that its foreign contracts generally call for payment in dollars or euros. Most European buyers have not complied, which would subvert European Union financial sanctions imposed on Russia after the Ukraine invasion and help prop up the battered ruble.
The European Union had been preparing for the possibility that Russia might halt natural gas deliveries, said Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission president. Nonetheless, she told a news conference, the Russian move was an attempt “to use gas as an instrument of blackmail.”
Poland and Bulgaria will quickly receive gas supplies from neighboring E.U. countries to compensate for the loss of Russian gas, she said, declaring that “the era of Russian fossil fuels in Europe is coming to an end.”
Both Poland and Bulgaria said the Russian cutoff would have little impact. In Poland, where electricity is largely generated with coal, not gas, the government sought to assuage any public fears. Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki assured Poles that gas storage tanks were three-quarters full — much higher than in other countries.
And if the Kremlin’s plan was to intimidate Poland and Bulgaria with a future of unheated homes and cold meals in the hope of fracturing Western unity to aid Ukraine, it may have miscalculated. On a sunny spring day in Warsaw, the Polish capital, many people reacted with shrugs to the news — mixed with disbelief that anyone would ever view Russia as a trustworthy supplier.
“We have nothing to worry about if the weather stays like this,” said Joanna Gres, a ballet dancer with a troupe attached to the Polish military.
Bulgaria, too, has sufficient gas supplies for the next month, Alexander Nikolov, the energy minister, told Bulgarian news media, vowing that the country would “not negotiate under pressure and with its head bowed. ”
A top German official said the flow of Russian gas to Germany, Russia’s biggest energy customer, remained steady, while adding that the country could live off existing reserves until at least next winter.
Russia announced the cutoff a day after 40 U.S.-led allies met at the Ramstein Air Base in Germany and pledged to provide Ukraine with long-term military aid, following a weekend visit to the country by top Biden administration officials who said they want to see Russia not only defeated but degraded militarily.
That toughened American message is viewed by Mr. Putin and his subordinates as validation of their argument that the Ukraine war is really about the American desire to weaken Russia, and they are indirectly at war with NATO.
Despite fears of a broadened war, there was also a small measure of cooperation on Wednesday between Russia and the United States, which announced a prisoner swap.
They confirmed that Trevor R. Reed, a former Marine convicted on charges that his family said were bogus, had been freed, an unexpected diplomatic success. Mr. Reed, first detained in 2019, was released in exchange for Konstantin Yaroshenko, a Russian pilot sentenced to a lengthy term in the United States on cocaine-trafficking charges.
Other Americans remain in detention in Russia, including Paul Whelan, who was sentenced in 2020 to 16 years in prison on espionage charges during a trial that was closed to the public; and Brittney Griner, a basketball star arrested in mid-February on drug charges that could carry a sentence of up to 10 years.
Neither the American nor Russian sides gave any indication that the exchange signaled a broader diplomatic effort to de-escalate the Ukraine crisis.
Ukraine appeared to have attempted to strike deeper into Russian territory overnight, although officials on both sides were vague about the details. Three local governors described drone flights and explosions as attacks.
Mykhailo Podolyak, a close adviser to President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine, also described the explosions inside Russia as attacks on sites that Russia had used to launch the invasion, but he attributed them to “karma” — not the Ukrainian military.
As described by the three Russian governors and Russian media, an ammunition depot was set afire near Belgorod, a city less than 20 miles from the border, two explosions were reported in Voronezh, nearly 200 miles from the border, and a Ukrainian drone was shot down over Kursk, about 70 miles from the border. If Ukraine was responsible, the attacks in Kursk and Voronezh would be the deepest inside Russia since the Feb. 24 invasion.
In Moscow, Nikolai Patrushev, the secretary for Mr. Putin’s security council, urged Russian officials across a wide swath of the southwestern region near Ukraine to ensure emergency alerts and civil defense facilities were “working reliably.”
Ukraine’s Defense Ministry has generally declined to discuss reports of attacks on Russian soil. Ukrainian officials have, for example, declined to comment on Russia’s claim that two Ukrainian helicopters fired on an oil depot in Belgorod in early April. In more than two months of war, the fighting has largely been contained within Ukraine’s borders.
Over the past few weeks Russian forces have concentrated on a full-scale assault in eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region, where analysts say Russia is making slow and measured advances on the ground as it confronts entrenched Ukrainian troops.
The pace of Russia’s ground assault appears more planned and deliberate than the initial invasion in February, which aimed at seizing more Ukrainian territory and depended on swift advances of tanks — a strategy that failed, at great cost to Russian forces.
Military analysts with the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington research group, said in their Tuesday assessment that Russian forces had “adopted a sounder pattern of operational movement in eastern Ukraine,” which is allowing them to “bring more combat power to bear” in their narrower goal of capturing just the eastern region.
Ukrainian troops have been defending positions in Donbas region since 2014, when secessionists there, backed by Russia, declared themselves the Donetsk People’s Republic and Luhansk People’s Republic.
Matina Stevis-Gridneff reported from Brussels, Neil MacFarquhar from Istanbul, and Shashank Bengali and Megan Specia from London. Reporting was contributed by Andrew Higgins from Warsaw, Ivan Nechepurenko from Tbilisi, Georgia, Cora Engelbrechtfrom Krakow, Poland, Liz Aldermanfrom Paris, Jane Arraf from Lviv, Ukraine, Matthew Mpoke Bigg from London and Rick Gladstone from New York.
YAOUNDÉ, Cameroon — She had watched some of the matches secretly, volume turned down low so that nobody would report her. She had seen the threats, and knew that she could be kidnapped or killed for watching the African soccer tournament that her country, Cameroon, was hosting.
But she was fed up with containing her excitement each time Cameroon scored, so on Wednesday, Ruth, who lives in a region at war where secessionist rebels have forbidden watching the games, secretly traveled to the capital, Yaoundé, to support her team in person.
“I’d love to scream, if it’s possible,” she said on Thursday, after safely reaching Yaoundé, while getting ready for the big game. “I decided to take the risk.”
African soccer is nearing the end of what everyone agrees has been a magnificent month. The 52 games in this year’s much-delayed Africa Cup of Nations tournament have brought some respite for countries going through major political upheaval or war, and those weathering the disruption and hardship wrought by Covid.
coup last week in Burkina Faso, Burkinabe soldiers back home danced with joy. When Senegal then beat Burkina Faso in the semifinal on Wednesday night, Dakar’s streets were filled with cars honking and flags waving. Online, after every match, thousands of people flock to Twitter Spaces to jointly dissect what happened.
a harsh crackdown. Human rights abuses by the military helped fuel a fully-fledged armed struggle by English-speaking fighters known as Amba boys, after Ambazonia, the name they have given their would-be state.
The separatists have warned people there not to watch Afcon, as the soccer tournament is known, and certainly not to support Cameroon. But many anglophones like Ruth — a government worker who asked to be identified by only her first name to protect her from retribution — have defied the risk and have traveled to majority francophone cities to attend matches.
“We may not be a very united nation, but I think this one thing brings us together,” Ruth said, adding that it was common knowledge that even as they threatened, kidnapped and tortured other spectators, the Amba fighters were watching the tournament in their camps.
Afcon is special. Players who are relatively unknown outside their countries’ borders play alongside multimillionaire stars from the world’s most elite teams who take time off to represent their countries, right in the middle of the European season.
overthrew their government.
“It wasn’t easy,” said Sambo Diallo, a fan standing with his arms out in a Yaoundé hotel bursting with fans from Burkina Faso, as a friend painted his entire head, face and torso with his country’s flag. “We weren’t happy, but we had to be brave.”
Despite the anxiety about their families at home, Burkina Faso’s players won that quarterfinal. Still on a high, a green bus full of cheering Burkina Faso fans who had followed their squad around the country rolled into Yaoundé on Wednesday afternoon. Their team was about to meet Senegal in the semis.
Soccer had obviously brought the Senegalese team together, the jewel in its crown one of the biggest stars on the continent, Sadio Mané, who also plays for Liverpool.
eight people died in a stampede. But she got stuck in heavy traffic on her way, and could not make it in time for kickoff. So she ducked into a bar and watched the match there.
Cameroon lost, 3-1, on penalty kicks. “It was still worth it because I could watch with excited fans,” she said.
KABUL, Afghanistan — A young Taliban fighter with a pair of handcuffs dangling from his finger warily watched the stream of approaching cars as he stood in front of a set of steel barricades.
Friday prayers would begin soon at the Sakhi Shah-e Mardan shrine and mosque, a holy Shiite site in central Kabul that he was guarding.
There had been two bombings of Shiite mosques in Afghanistan by the Islamic State in recent months, killing dozens, and this 18-year-old Taliban fighter, Mohammad Khalid Omer, wasn’t taking any chances.
He and his police unit of five other fighters, colloquially known as the Sakhi unit after the shrine they defend, represents the Taliban’s vanguard in their newest struggle after the group’s stunning takeover of the country in August: They won the war, but can they secure the peace in a multiethnic country racked by more than 40 years of violence?
economic hardships gripping their countrymen, with the same threat of Islamic State attacks and with the raucous, puzzling, winding streets and back alleys of Kabul, a city of about 4.5 million people that they are practically strangers to.
The Sakhi unit lives full time next to the shrine in a small concrete room painted bright green with a single electric heater. Steel bunk beds line the walls. The only decoration is a single poster of the sacred Kaaba in Mecca.
the Taliban’s interim government, composed almost entirely of Pashtun hard-liners who are emblematic of the movement’s harsh rule in the 1990s, and who are perceived as anti-Hazara.
As he spoke in the unit’s cramped barracks, a small speaker often played “taranas,” the spoken prayer songs, without musical accompaniment, popular with the Talibs.
One of the group’s favorites was a song about losing one’s comrades, and the tragedy of youth lost. In a high thin voice, the singer intones, “O death, you break and kill our hearts.”
On a fall day last year as the Sakhi unit looked on, families gathered on the tiled terraces around the shrine, drinking tea and sharing food.
Some cautiously eyed the Talibs patrolling the site, and one group of young men rushed to put out their cigarettes as they approached. The Taliban generally frown on smoking, and the unit has at times physically punished smokers.
Another day, two teenage boys came to the shrine, brazenly strolling with their two girlfriends. They were confronted by the Sakhi unit, who asked what they were doing. Unsatisfied with their answers, the Talibs dragged the boys into their bunk room to answer for the transgression. In conservative Afghanistan, such public consorting is taboo, doubly so in a holy site under Taliban guard.
Inside their room, there was an argument among the Sakhi unit about how to handle the two boys: good cop versus bad cop. Hekmatullah Sahel, one of the more experienced members of the unit, disagreed with his comrades. He pushed for a verbal lashing rather than a physical one. He was overruled.
When the teenagers were finally allowed to leave, shaken by the beating they had just received, Mr. Sahel called out to the boys, telling them to come back again — but without their girlfriends.
The episode was a reminder to the shrine’s visitors that the Taliban fighters, while generally friendly, could still revert to the tactics that defined their religious hard-line rule in the 1990s.
For the group of six fighters, contending with flirting teenagers was just another indicator that their days of fighting a guerrilla war were over. Now they spend their time preoccupied by more quotidian policing considerations, like spotting possible bootleggers (alcohol in Afghanistan is banned), finding fuel for their unit’s pickup and wondering whether their commander will grant them leave for the weekend.
Mr. Omer had joined the unit only months before. “I joined the Islamic Emirate because I had a great desire to serve my religion and country,” he said.
But to some Talibs, Mr. Omer is what is derisively called a “21-er” — a fighter who only joined the movement in 2021, as victory loomed. This new generation of Talibs bring new expectations with them, chief among them the desire for a salary.
They and most other rank-and-file fighters have never received a salary from the movement. Despite seizing billions in American-supplied weapons and matériel, the Taliban are still far from being well equipped. Fighters are dependent on their commanders for basic supplies, and they have to scrounge for anything extra.
Mr. Sahel, at 28, is older than most of his comrades, slower to excite and more restrained. He spent four years studying at a university, working the whole time as a clandestine operative for the movement. “None of my classmates knew that I was in the Taliban,” he said. He graduated with a degree in physics and math education, but returned to the fight.
Relieved the war is over, he and his comrades still miss the sense of purpose it provided. “We are happy that our country was liberated and we are currently living in peace,” he said, but added, “we are very sad for our friends who were martyred.”
Every few weeks, the men are allowed to visit their families back in Wardak for two days. On a crisp morning in November, Mr. Inqayad sat in his home in the Masjid Gardena valley, a beautiful collection of orchards and fields hemmed in by mountain peaks.
He explained that many families in the area had lost sons to the fighting, and estimated that 80 percent of the families in the area were Taliban supporters.
Mr. Inqayad attended school until the seventh grade, but had to drop out. Religious studies filled in some gaps. He joined the Taliban at 15.
Recently married, he faces new challenges now that the movement is in power. The only potential breadwinner in his family, he needs a salary to support his wife, mother and sisters, but so far he has not been drawing one.
Back in Kabul, the Sakhi unit loaded up for a night patrol, bundling up to combat the cold wind that blows incessantly from the mountains ringing the city.
Mr. Omer rode in the bed of the unit’s truck, a machine gun resting on his lap and bands of ammunition wrapped around his neck like party beads.
But there was little to warrant the heavy weaponry meant for suppressing enemy troops. Their area of responsibility was quiet, and the men seemed bored as they spun around the city as packs of street dogs chased and snapped at the tires of passing cars.
BEIRUT, Lebanon — Built on the ashes of 10 years of war in Syria, an illegal drug industry run by powerful associates and relatives of President Bashar al-Assad has grown into a multi-billion-dollar operation, eclipsing Syria’s legal exports and turning the country into the world’s newest narcostate.
Its flagship product is captagon, an illegal, addictive amphetamine popular in Saudi Arabia and other Arab states. Its operations stretch across Syria, including workshops that manufacture the pills, packing plants where they are concealed for export, and smuggling networks to spirit them to markets abroad.
An investigation by The New York Times found that much of the production and distribution is overseen by the Fourth Armored Division of the Syrian army, an elite unit commanded by Maher al-Assad, the president’s younger brother and one of Syria’s most powerful men.
Major players also include businessmen with close ties to the government, the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, and other members of the president’s extended family, whose last name ensures protection for illegal activities, according to The Times investigation, which is based on information from law enforcement officials in 10 countries and dozens of interviews with international and regional drug experts, Syrians with knowledge of the drug trade and current and former United States officials.
found 84 million pills hidden in huge rolls of paper and metal gears last year. Malaysian officials discovered more than 94 million pills sealed inside rubber trolley wheels in March.
hub of hashish production and a stronghold of Hezbollah, an Iran-backed militant group that is now part of Lebanon’s government.
While the pharmaceutical Captagon contained the amphetamine fenethylline, the illicit version sold today, often referred to as “captagon” with a lowercase c, usually contains a mix of amphetamines, caffeine and various fillers. Cheap versions retail for less than a dollar a pill in Syria, while higher quality pills can sell for $14 or more apiece in Saudi Arabia.
After the Syrian war broke out, smugglers took advantage of the chaos to sell the drug to fighters on all sides, who took it to bolster their courage in battle. Enterprising Syrians, working with local pharmacists and machinery from disused pharmaceutical factories, began making it.
Syria had the needed components: experts to mix drugs, factories to make products to conceal the pills, access to Mediterranean shipping lanes and established smuggling routes to Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq.
As the war dragged on, the country’s economy fell apart and a growing number of Mr. al-Assad’s associates were targeted with international sanctions. Some of them invested in captagon, and a state-linked cartel developed, bringing together military officers, militia leaders, traders whose businesses had boomed during the war and relatives of Mr. al-Assad.
Mr. Khiti and Mr. Taha. It called Mr. Taha an intermediary for the Fourth Division whose businesses “generate revenue for the regime and its supporters.”
Captagon is still produced in and smuggled through Lebanon. Nouh Zaiter, a Lebanese drug lord who now lives mostly in Syria, links the Lebanese and Syrian sides of the business, according to regional security officials and Syrians with knowledge of the drug trade.
A tall, longhaired Bekaa Valley native, Mr. Zaiter was sentenced in absentia to life in prison with hard labor by a Lebanese military court this year for drug crimes.
Reached by phone, Mr. Zaiter said his business was hashish and denied that he had ever been involved with captagon.
“I have not and will never send such poisons to Saudi Arabia or anywhere else,” he said. “Even my worst enemy, I won’t provide him with captagon.”
sewn into the linings of clothes.
In May, after Saudi authorities discovered more than five million pills hidden inside hollowed out pomegranates shipped from Beirut, they banned produce from Lebanon, a major blow to local farmers.
According to The Times’ database, the number of pills seized has increased every year since 2017.
The street value of the drugs seized has outstripped the value of Syria’s legal exports, mostly agricultural products, every year since 2019.
Last year, global captagon seizures had a street value of about$2.9 billion, more than triple Syria’s legal exports of $860 million.
Law enforcement agencies have struggled to catch the smugglers, not least because the Syrian authorities offer little if any information about shipments that originated in their country.
The name of shippers listed on manifests are usually fake and searches for the intended recipients often lead to mazes of shell companies.
The Italian seizure of 84 million pills in Salerno last year, the largest captagon bust ever at the time, had come from Latakia. Shipping documents listed the sender as Basil al-Shagri Bin Jamal, but the Italian authorities were unable to find him.
GPS Global Aviation Supplier, a company registered in Lugano, Switzerland, that appears to have no office.
Phone calls, text messages and emails to the company received no response, and the wealth management firm that the company listed as its mailing address, SMC Family Office SA, declined to comment.
Greek investigators have hit similar roadblocks.
In June 2019, workers in Piraeus found five tons of captagon, worth hundreds of millions of dollars, inside sheets of fiberboard on their way to China.
Seehog, a Chinese logistics firm. When reached by phone, she denied knowing anything about the shipment and refused to answer questions.
“You are not the police,” she said, and hung up.
There was one more clue in the documents: The sender was Mohammed Amer al-Dakak, with a Syrian phone number. When entered into WhatsApp, the phone number showed a photo of Maher al-Assad, the commander of Syria’s Fourth Armored Division, suggesting the number belonged to, at least, one of his fans.
A man who answered that number said that he was not Mr. al-Dakak. He said that he had acquired the phone number recently.
Loukas Danabasis, the head of the narcotics unit of Greece’s financial crime squad, said the smugglers’ tactics made solving such cases “difficult and sometimes impossible.”
Spilling Into Jordan
While officials in Europe struggle to identify smugglers, Jordan, one of the United States’ closest partners in the Middle East, sits on the front lines of a regional drug war.
“Jordan is the gateway to the Gulf,” Brig. Gen. Ahmad al-Sarhan, the commander of an army unit along Jordan’s border with Syria, said during a visit to the area.
Overlooking a deep valley with views of Syria, General al-Sarhan and his men detailed Syrian smugglers’ tricks to bring drugs into Jordan: They launch crossing attempts at multiple spots. They attach drugs to drones and fly them across. They load drugs onto donkeys trained to cross by themselves.
Sometimes the smugglers stop by Syrian army posts before approaching the border.
“There is clear involvement,” General al-Sarhan said.
The drug trade worries Jordanian officials for many reasons.
The quantities are increasing. The number of Captagon pills seized in Jordan this year is nearly double the amount seized in 2020, according to Colonel Alqudah, the head of the narcotics department.
And while Jordan was originally just a pathway to Saudi Arabia, as much as one-fifth of the drugs smuggled in from Syria are now consumed in Jordan, he estimated. The increased supply has lowered the price, making it easy for students to become addicted.
Even more worrying, he said, is the growing quantity of crystal meth entering Jordan from Syria, which poses a greater threat. As of October, Jordan had seized 132 pounds of it this year, up from 44 pounds the year before.
“We are now in a dangerous stage because we can’t go back,” said Dr. Morad al-Ayasrah, a Jordanian psychiatrist who treats drug addicts. “We are going forward and the drugs are increasing.”
Reporting was contributed by Niki Kitsantonis in Athens; Gaia Pianigiani in Rome; Kit Gillet in Bucharest, Romania; Hannah Beech in Bangkok; and employees of The New York Times in Damascus, Syria, and Beirut, Lebanon.
ALONG THE EASTERN POLAND BORDER — The father had walked in circles in the rain-drenched Polish forest, cradling his sick daughter, delirious after three days with barely any food or water as temperatures dipped toward freezing. He was soaked, shivering and facing a terrible choice.
His daughter, 2, has cerebral palsy and epilepsy. He had wrapped her in a thin coat to protect her from the cold, and she needed urgent medical attention. The father, an Iraqi Kurd who gave his name as Karwan, had guided his family across the border from Belarus but was now in a forested area patrolled by Polish soldiers and border guards.
The choice for the father was pitiless: seeking medical help would mean a return to Belarus and the end of his family’s desperate journey to Europe.
“I can call for an ambulance for you, but border guards will come with it,” Piotr Bystrianin, a Polish activist who arrived to help, told the family, who said they wanted to request asylum in Poland. He had found them after hours of searching in the dark, alerted to their whereabouts by a locator pin sent by cellphone.
geopolitical fight between Belarus and Poland that has escalated into a man-made humanitarian disaster for Europe. At least five people who crossed illegally into Poland have died in recent weeks, some of hypothermia and exhaustion, according to Polish officials, and three nearly drowned in a Polish swamp.
Aleksandr G. Lukashenko of Belarus is using migrants to punish the European Union for imposing sanctions on him for cracking down hard after a disputed election last year. The migrants — some fleeing poverty in Africa and elsewhere and others escaping war in countries like Afghanistan and Iraq — are allowed to enter Belarus, and then encouraged to cross over into Poland, a member of the European Union, with hopes of dispersing across the region.
Poland’s right-wing government, determined to keep out refugees and economic migrants, has flooded the eastern border area with security agents, while keeping out prying eyes by declaring it an emergency exclusion zone off limits to all but residents.
in an interview that it was “harmful” for the government to suggest that “every refugee is a terrorist or a sex offender,” adding: “We cannot accept that people die in front of our eyes.”
In a detailed report, Amnesty International last week documented how Polish border guards had held 32 Afghan asylum seekers in “horrendous conditions for weeks” and then pushed them back over the border into Belarus in violation of international law. In a separate report, the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights said that “Poland is conducting mass illegal pushbacks at its border with Belarus.”
Some officials are pushing back against the government’s policy. Poland’s deputy commissioner for human rights denounced the treatment of asylum seekers as a “scandal” that shows “the darkest possible image of Poland.”
sanctions on Belarus for forcing down a passenger jet carrying a Belarusian dissident. Mr. Lukashenko’s government initially steered the migrants toward Lithuania, but directed them south to the Polish border after Lithuania erected a fence.
Both Lithuania and Poland have reinforced their borders, laying coils of razor wire and fortifying existing barriers, borrowing anti-migrant methods pioneered by Hungary at the height of Europe’s migrant crisis in 2015.
The European Union, loath to see a repeat of that crisis and another surge of support for populist, anti-immigration politicians, has mostly supported the efforts of Poland and Lithuania to keep out people trying to enter from Belarus.
report on the briefing: “He raped a cow and wanted to get into Poland? Details on migrants at the border.”
But the picture turned out to be a still from a zoophilia pornography movie available on the internet, and involved a horse, not a cow.
Poland has taken in hundreds of asylum-seekers airlifted from Afghanistan since the Taliban took power in August but hostility to migrants sneaking across the border has been a constant feature of Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party. In 2015, ahead of elections that brought it to power, its leader said they carried “all sorts of parasites and protozoa.”
Fundacja Ocalenie, waited patiently for the distraught family to make their decision.
Worried that his ailing daughter and others in the group might not survive, Karwan decidedit would be best to seek medical help. Two ambulances arrived and, as he had been warned, border guards came, too.
Four family members were taken to the hospital, and six others to the border to be forced back into Belarus. Mr. Bystrianin and a fellow activist, Dorota Nowok, in the area to provide food and clothing, were fined for entering a restricted zone.
Monika Pronczuk contributed reporting from Brussels, and Anatol Magdziarz from Warsaw.
Most of New Orleans went dark on Sunday after Hurricane Ida took out transmission lines and forced power plants offline. It was an all too familiar scene in a city that has often lost power during big storms.
But this was an outage that was never supposed to happen. The utility company Entergy opened a new natural gas power plant in the city last year, pledging that it would help keep the lights on — even during hot summer days and big storms. It was one of two natural gas plants commissioned in recent years in the New Orleans area, the other one hailed by Gov. John Bel Edwards last year as a “source of clean energy that gives our state a competitive advantage and helps our communities grow.”
The storm raises fresh questions about how well the energy industry has prepared for natural disasters, which many scientists believe are becoming more common because of climate change. This year, much of Texas was shrouded in darkness after a winter storm, and last summer officials in California ordered rolling blackouts during a heat wave.
More than a million residential and commercial customers in Louisiana were without power on Monday afternoon, and Entergy and other utilities serving the state said it would take days to assess the damage to their equipment and weeks to fully restore service across the state. One customer can be a family or a large business, so the number of people without power is most likely many times higher. In neighboring Mississippi, just under 100,000 customers were without power.
some of California’s largest and deadliest wildfires.
impossible for Texas to import power by keeping the state grid largely isolated from the rest of the country to avoid federal oversight.
add more transmission lines to carry more solar and wind power from one region of the country to another. But some energy experts said the increasing frequency of devastating hurricanes, wildfires and other disasters argues against a big investment in power lines and for greater investment in smaller-scale systems like rooftop solar panels and batteries. Because small systems are placed at many homes, businesses, schools and other buildings, some continue to function even when others are damaged, providing much-needed energy during and after disasters.
Susan Guidry, a former member of the New Orleans City Council who voted against the Entergy plant, said she had worried that a storm like Ida could wreak havoc on her city and its energy system. She had wanted the city and utility to consider other options. But she said her fellow Council members and the utility had ignored those warnings.
“They said that they had dealt with that problem,” Ms. Guidry said. “The bottom line is they should have instead been upgrading their transmission and investing in renewable energy.”
Numerous community groups and city leaders opposed the gas-fired power plant, which is just south of Interstate 10 and Lake Pontchartrain, bordering predominantly African American and Vietnamese American neighborhoods. Nevertheless, the City Council approved the plant, which began commercial operations in May 2020. It generates power mainly at times of peak demand.
About a year earlier, Entergy opened a larger gas power plant in nearby St. Charles Parish. Leo P. Denault, Entergy’s chairman and chief executive, last year called that plant “a significant milestone along the clean energy journey we began more than 20 years ago.”
Some utilities have turned to burying transmission lines to protect them from strong winds and storms, but Mr. Gasteiger said that was expensive and could cause its own problems.
“Generally speaking, it’s not that the utilities are not willing to do it,” he said. “It’s that people aren’t willing to pay for it. Usually it’s a cost issue. And undergrounding can make it more difficult to locate and fix” problems.
Big changes to electric grids and power plants are likely to take years, but activists and residents of New Orleans say officials should explore solutions that can be rolled out more quickly, especially as tens of thousands of people face days or weeks without electricity. Some activists want officials to put a priority on investments in rooftop solar, batteries and microgrids, which can power homes and commercial buildings even when the larger grid goes down.
“We keep walking by the solutions to keep people safe in their homes,” said Logan Atkinson Burke, executive director of the Alliance for Affordable Energy, a consumer group based in New Orleans. “When these events happen, then we’re in crisis mode because instead we’re spending billions of dollars every year now to rebuild the same system that leaves people in the dark, in a dire situation.”
Some residents have already invested in small-scale energy systems for themselves. Julie Graybill and her husband, Bob Smith, installed solar panels and batteries at their New Orleans home after Hurricane Isaac blew through Louisiana in 2012. They lost power for five days after Isaac, at times going to their car for air-conditioning with their two older dogs, said Ms. Graybill, 67, who retired from the Tulane University School of Medicine.
“We would sit in the car about every hour,” she said. “My husband said, ‘We are never doing this again.’” Mr. Smith, 73, who is also retired, worked as an engineer at Royal Dutch Shell, the oil company.
The couple have set up a little power station on their porch so neighbors can charge their phones and other items. Only a few other homes on their street have solar panels, but no one else nearby has batteries, which can store the power that panels generate and dispense it when the grid goes down.
“We’re told we’re not going to have power for three weeks,” Ms. Graybill said. “The only people who have power are people with generators or solar panels. We lived through Katrina. This is not Katrina, so we’re lucky.”
It’s late March in a coastal town in Mozambique, and a group of militants is on the attack. Thousands of civilians flee as their town is left burning behind them. This isn’t the first time scenes like this have played out here, but it’s the first time we’ve seen them captured in such detail. A crisis has been unfolding as local insurgents who’ve pledged allegiance to the Islamic State, execute the largest land grab by an ISIS-linked group in years. And this has created one of the world’s most severe humanitarian crises. Hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced. And now, over the course of about a week, the insurgents are attacking Palma, a strategic port town with massive global investment. In one scene, hundreds shelter in a hotel while a battle rages outside. The question they’re asking … … is the Mozambique government going to save them? It isn’t. The government exaggerated its response in the days after the attack. But we found that government forces weren’t able to defend Palma, leaving its citizens to mostly fend for themselves against the insurgents. Evacuations that did happen had to be hastily organized by private companies. For years, the government has heavily censored media coverage of the conflict, obscuring much of what’s happening. But we can still discover clues about the situation by examining what is aired by local media … … like state-run broadcaster, TVM, and by Sky News, which went to Palma after the attack. Combining this footage with visual evidence from survivors, satellite analysis and ship-tracking data allows us to build a fuller picture of an attack which many felt was not a question of if it would happen, but when. The insurgency is known locally as Al-Shabaab, and it first emerged in the province of Cabo Delgado in 2017. Al-Shabaab’s recruitment is mostly local, and draws on grievances over extreme poverty and corruption. The group has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State … … but how close these ties really are is hotly debated. The government, however, tries to maintain the illusion of safety and calm for international investors. But insurgent activity and control have escalated over time, overwhelming Mozambique’s severely under-resourced government forces. Now in March 2021, those forces are tested again. The insurgents’ target, the town of Palma, lies here. Just South of Palma is the site of Africa’s largest foreign direct investment, a liquefied natural gas project where the primary investor is French oil and gas company Total. The project is hailed as a massive new revenue source that could transform the country, but it’s also controversial, in part, because its construction displaced many local villages. In the months before the attack, insurgents were getting closer to Palma, prompting Total to strike a deal with the Mozambican government for better security at the multibillion dollar gas site. We analyzed satellite imagery which shows at least nine recently constructed military outposts at key positions around the site. It’s clear that the natural gas project, and not the town, is the most secure place when insurgents move in. Now we come to March 24, the day Al-Shabaab advances on Palma. They quickly take control of parts of the coast and all key roads leading into the town — to the southwest, cutting off a key crossroads for military reinforcements. West on this road, and to the north on this road alongside the town’s airstrip. Video obtained and verified by The Times shows a plane trying to land there coming under fire. In it we get a rare glimpse of the insurgents. Multiple eyewitnesses told us that the government forces inside Palma retreated quickly after some pockets tried and failed to fight off the insurgents. We were also told that around 750 soldiers stationed at the gas site stay inside the facility instead of rushing to the city as backup. There’s little footage of the insurgents from during the attack. But Islamic State media did release this footage claiming to show the fighters preparing, along with claims that they targeted a good deal of the town’s infrastructure. The Times confirmed damage to two banks, government offices, the town’s business park, and military and police buildings. The roads are cut off, and the only ways help can now arrive are by sea and air. Three government helicopters are moved from at least 85 miles away to the airstrip of the natural gas site. But multiple eyewitnesses told us that the helicopters only attempt to fly into Palma once and quickly retreat under fire. Other helicopters do come to the rescue, but they’re not government helicopters. They belong to the Dyck Advisory Group, or DAG, a South African military contractor hired by Mozambique to help fight the insurgency. Their presence is controversial. Recently, Amnesty International accused them of war crimes, claims which they deny. DAG is one of the only actors capable of conducting rescues. Its executives told The Times that they intervened on their own without any clear instruction from the government. DAG heads here to the Amarula Hotel. Its guests are mostly foreign. Now they’re joined by over 100 others from around Palma trying to flee. “We’re going to Amarula, bro.” But who should be rescued first and why? With no government oversight, there’s no plan. It falls to people like the hotel’s manager to come up with one. He’s speaking publicly here for the first time. DAG ultimately makes four rescue flights, but their helicopters can’t hold much. And just a little over 20 people make it out. Those left wonder if the military will send in the larger helicopters we showed you before, one of which can carry upwards of 30 people. With no help coming, they developed their own evacuation plan using vehicles from the hotel’s parking lot to drive outside the town. Some take this route to a quarry, where they believe they’ll be rescued. As people are loading into the cars, the hotel’s owner arranges a last-ditch helicopter rescue. It carries members of her staff and her two dogs. She denies the dogs took up space that could have been used by people. The flight is made by a private company that the hotel often chartered for tourist excursions. As for the DAG helicopters, because they have weapons, they provide air cover for this final helicopter rescue. As the ground convoy prepares to make the risky escape over land, there’s still confusion over whether they will receive air support too. But the aerial resources are stretched too thin, and the cars won’t all make it. Photographs showed that several of the vehicles were ambushed and forced off the road. Only a few safely reached this quarry and spend the night hiding. DAG rescues them the next day and dozens more civilians from elsewhere. The government help never comes. With limited air evacuations, thousands of people throughout the area are forced to flee on their own. The man who shot this video told us what happened. Tens of thousands go on foot or by bus across the province toward other cities and towns. Many more people line up at the natural gas site run by Total, where at least some government security is present. Sources tell us that civilians were often denied entrance. As the crowd at the site grows, Total decides to organize a rescue, mostly for its own staff. It charters this ferry, seen here docked at the natural gas site. The Total employees appear to be protected by this ship, known as an Ocean Eagle 43, a patrol and surveillance vessel run by the Mozambican government. It’s one of the few signs of government intervention during the attack on Palma. Ship-tracking data shows they flee south alongside this convoy of mostly private boats. The ferry arrives in the provincial capital of Pemba with over 1,300 passengers, most of them employees. And it makes a second rescue out of Palma a few days later, this time with more locals on board. After the weeklong attack, repercussions were immediately felt — because of the violence, Total has suspended its natural gas operations indefinitely, raising serious concerns about Mozambique’s economic future and the people it left behind. Dozens of Total’s contractors and subcontractors still remain in Palma. Some told The Times that the company hasn’t checked on their safety. Total didn’t respond to our request for comment. Based on our tally of evacuations, only a small number of Palma’s population were rescued during the attack. Roughly 95 percent of the population was left behind. Mozambique’s defense ministry didn’t respond to our questions about their operations in Palma. But after the attack, the country’s president downplayed the severity of violence in the city. His forces have since re-entered the town, assuring people that it’s safe to return. It’s not. A month after the attack, this thermal image reveals large fires burning in Palma, and satellite imagery confirms at least 50 buildings, some of which are seen here, have burn damage. There are near-daily reports of gunfire here. Civilians hoping to escape this threat are forced to rely on a volunteer group working with private companies to organize flights and barges. The cycle of violence plaguing Mozambique for three years continues. Even now, residents must flee on their own, unable to trust in their government to save them.
When Allegra Brochin and her boyfriend adopted Sprinkles, a feisty white Maltese, last year, they set about finding pet care.
“I immediately started looking,” said Ms. Brochin, 23, who works as a communications coordinator for Michael Kors in New York.
She saw ads for Bond Vet pop up on her Instagram feed, and when she took in Sprinkles for her shots, she was won over by the look and feel of the clinic, “especially when it’s for a pet you care about and feel responsible for,” she said.
Ms. Brochin is not alone in her devotion to her pandemic pet. More than 12.6 million households adopted animals from March to December of last year, according to the American Pet Products Association, helping to propel an increase in visits and revenue to veterinary offices, as new owners took pets in for their first checkup.
pet care business is riding a growth spurt: Morgan Stanley projected that it would be a $275 billion industry in 2030, up from $100 billion in 2019, with vet care the fastest-growing segment over the next decade.
“Ten years ago, there was a baby boom,” Arash Danialifar, chief executive of GD Realty Group, a California company that has leased space to a veterinary start-up, said about the proliferation of shops selling children’s fashion. “Now it’s all about pets.”
Small Door Veterinary recently announced it had raised $20 million and planned to go from a single location to 25 by 2025. The firm operates on a membership model, with 24/7 telemedicine and waiting areas with arched, white oak-paneled alcoves that give owners and their pets an intimate place to chill before appointments. Designed by Alda Ly Architecture, the clinics are rented storefronts of 2,000 to 3,000 square feet and cost about $1 million to kit out, said Josh Guttman, Small Door’s co-founder and chief executive.
Bond Vet, another New York start-up, models itself on CityMD clinics; it recently raised $17 million and now has six offices, including its first suburban location, in Garden City on Long Island.
Modern Animal, has an office in a high-end shopping district in West Hollywood, with three more to come in the city by year’s end and a dozen clinics in California by 2022, said the company’s founder and chief executive, Steven Eidelman.
new pet owners during the pandemic. Seventy-six percent of millennials own pets, according to a recent survey, and they are spending generously on their charges.
Terravet Real Estate Solutions, founded in 2016, now owns more than 100 buildings in 30 states, many of them housing practices owned by consolidators. For instance, Terravet owns the building housing CountryChase Veterinary Hospital in Tampa, Fla., and the American Veterinary Group, which operates practices across the South, owns the business.
Hound Properties, founded two years ago, has been buying buildings with an investor-backed fund. And Vetley Capital, started this year, has a portfolio of 20 buildings in nine states, most of them on the small side, ranging from 2,500 to 4,000 square feet and costing around $1 million, said Zach Goldman, the company’s founder and president.
The price of real estate has risen, but the returns are generally modest. “It’s the ultimate slow and steady income,” said Tripp Stewart, co-founder and chief executive of Hound Properties, who is also a practicing vet.
Despite the interest, there are obstacles to opening pet hospitals. Zoning sometimes limits their locations. In Pasadena, Calif., GD Realty had to request a zoning change for Modern Animal.
Because such businesses revolve around animal doctors, who are in demand as veterinary companies expand, there are shortages of vets in some parts of the country, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association.
The improvements in vet facilities are thus aimed not only at pets and their owners, but also at the doctors themselves, who can choose where they want to work.
“It used to be that when you went to a vet, it was a family vet who worked out of a kitchen in an old house,” said Dr. Stewart. “Today, you’re not going to attract new young vets to an old house.”
The tray tables were being raised and the seat backs returned to the upright position as passengers on Ryanair Flight 4978 prepared for the scheduled landing in the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius. Then, suddenly, the plane made an abrupt U-turn.
There was no explanation given.
It would be roughly 15 minutes before the pilot came over the intercom and announced that the plane would be diverting to Minsk, the capital of Belarus, according to those on board.
For many passengers, it seemed, at first, it was most likely just one of those unexpected delays that can be part of airline travel — perhaps a technical problem, some speculated.
For one passenger, however, the situation was clear. And frightening.
Roman Protasevich, a prominent Belarusian opposition journalist who had been living in exile since 2019, started to panic.
told the Lithuanian broadcaster LRT upon arrival in Vilnius. “He said: ‘I know that death penalty awaits me in Belarus.’”
told a Lithuanian news website that the pilot was “visibly nervous” during the landing in Minsk.
Alyona Alymova, one of the passengers, wrote about the experience in a Facebook post, noting that for much of the time there was only “light anxiety.”
“There was no clear understanding of what was going on,” she wrote.
Some passengers learned about the bomb threat only hours later, when they could connect to the internet.
In an Instagram post, one passenger said that they were “treated as prisoners in Minsk.” Hours later, they were allowed in an airport lounge area with a small cafeteria.
“I want to see who will be responsible for this chaos,” she said.