NBC News, Dmitri S. Peskov, the Kremlin’s spokesman, said that the two Americans, Alex Drueke, 39, and Andy Tai Ngoc Huynh, 27, were “soldiers of fortune” who had been engaged in shelling and firing on Russian forces and should be “held responsible for the crimes they have committed.”

The sanctions imposed on Russia also played a role on Monday in an escalating confrontation with Lithuania, a member of both the European Union and NATO.

The Russian authorities threatened Lithuania with retaliation if the Baltic country did not swiftly reverse its ban on the transportation of some goods to Kaliningrad, the Russian exclave between Lithuania and Poland. Citing instructions from the European Union, Lithuania’s railway on Friday said it was halting the movement of goods from Russia that have been sanctioned by the European bloc.

Mr. Peskov told reporters the situation was “more than serious.” He called the new restrictions “an element of a blockade” of the region and a “violation of everything.”

small town of Toshkivka in Luhansk Province, part of the eastern region known as Donbas. That is where Russian forces have concentrated much of their military power as part of a plan to seize the region after having failed to occupy other parts of the country, including Kyiv, the capital, and Kharkiv, the second-largest city, in northern Ukraine.

Reports over the weekend suggested that Russian forces had broken through the Ukrainian front line in Toshkivka, about 12 miles southeast of the metropolitan area of Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk. Those are the last major cities in Luhansk not to have fallen into Russian hands. As of Monday, it remained unclear whether Russia had made any further advance there.

But Ukrainian officials said Russian forces had intensified shelling in and around Kharkiv, weeks after the Ukrainians had pushed them back, suggesting that Moscow still had territorial ambitions beyond Donbas.

“We de-occupied this region,” Mr. Zelensky said in an address to a conference of international policy experts in Italy. “And they want to do it again.”

Matthew Mpoke Bigg reported from London, Andrew Higgins from Warsaw, Thomas Gibbons-Neff from Druzhkivka, Ukraine, and Rick Gladstone from New York. Reporting was contributed by Valerie Hopkins and Oleksandr Chubko from Kyiv; Dan Bilefsky from Montreal; Monika Pronczuk from Brussels; Austin Ramzy from Hong Kong; Stanley Reed from London; and Zach Montague from Rehoboth Beach, Del.

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‘We Buried Him and Kept Walking’: Children Die as Somalis Flee Hunger

DOOLOW, Somalia — When her crops failed and her parched goats died, Hirsiyo Mohamed left her home in southwestern Somalia, carrying and coaxing three of her eight children on the long walk across a bare and dusty landscape in temperatures as high as 100 degrees.

Along the way, her 3-and-a-half-year-old son, Adan, tugged at her robe, begging for food and water. But there was none to give, she said. “We buried him, and kept walking.”

They reached an aid camp in the town of Doolow after four days, but her malnourished 8-year-old daughter, Habiba, soon contracted whooping cough and died, she said. Sitting in her makeshift tent last month, holding her 2-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Maryam, in her lap, she said, “This drought has finished us.”

imperiling lives across the Horn of Africa, with up to 20 million people in Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia facing the risk of starvation by the end of this year, according to the World Food Program.

appealed to President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia to lift the blockade on exports of Ukrainian grain and fertilizer — even as American diplomats warned of Russian efforts to sell stolen Ukrainian wheat to African nations.

The most devastating crisis is unfolding in Somalia, where about seven million of the country’s estimated 16 million people face acute food shortages. Since January, at least 448 children have died from severe acute malnutrition, according to a database managed by UNICEF.

only about 18 percent of the $1.46 billion needed for Somalia, according to the United Nations’ financial tracking service. “This will put the world in a moral and ethical dilemma,” said El-Khidir Daloum, the Somalia country director for the World Food Program, a U.N. agency.

projected to increase by up to 16 percent because of the war in Ukraine and the pandemic, which made ingredients, packaging and supply chains more costly, according to UNICEF.

displaced by the drought this year. As many as three million Somalis have also been displaced by tribal and political conflicts and the ever-growing threat from the terrorist group Al Shabab.

cyclones, rising temperatures, a locust infestation that destroyed crops, and, now, four consecutive failed rainy seasons.

spend 60 to 80 percent of their income on food. The loss of wheat from Ukraine, supply-chain delays and soaring inflation have led to sharp rises in the prices of cooking oil and staples like rice and sorghum.

At a market in the border town of Doolow, more than two dozen tables were abandoned because vendors could no longer afford to stock produce from local farms. The remaining retailers sold paltry supplies of cherry tomatoes, dried lemons and unripe bananas to the few customers trickling in.

perished since mid-2021, according to monitoring agencies.

The drought is also straining the social support systems that Somalis depend on during crises.

As thousands of hungry and homeless people flooded the capital, the women at the Hiil-Haween Cooperative sought ways to support them. But faced with their own soaring bills, many of the women said they had little to share. They collected clothes and food for about 70 displaced people.

“We had to reach deep into our community to find anything,” said Hadiya Hassan, who leads the cooperative.

likely fail, pushing the drought into 2023. The predictions are worrying analysts, who say the deteriorating conditions and the delayed scale-up in funding could mirror the severe 2011 drought that killed about 260,000 Somalis.

Famine in Somalia.”

For now, the merciless drought is forcing some families to make hard choices.

Back at the Benadir hospital in Mogadishu, Amina Abdullahi gazed at her severely malnourished 3-month-old daughter, Fatuma Yusuf. Clenching her fists and gasping for air, the baby let out a feeble cry, drawing smiles from the doctors who were happy to hear her make any noise at all.

“She was as still as the dead when we brought her here,” Ms. Abdullahi said. But even though the baby had gained more than a pound in the hospital, she was still less than five pounds in all — not even half what she should be. Doctors said it would be a while before she was discharged.

This pained Ms. Abdullahi. She had left six other children behind in Beledweyne, about 200 miles away, on a small, desiccated farm with her goats dying.

“The suffering back home is indescribable,” she said. “I want to go back to my children.”

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What Happened on Day 100 of the War in Ukraine

One hundred days ago, before sunrise, Russia launched artillery strikes on Ukraine before sending troops racing toward major cities, beginning a war against a much smaller country and outnumbered military that seemed destined to quickly topple the government in Kyiv.

But the brutal invasion has ripped apart those predictions, reawakening old alliances, testing others and spreading death and destruction across the country. Both armies are now locked in fierce and bloody battles across a 600-mile-long front for control of Ukraine’s east and to gain the upper hand in the conflict.

The winner, if there is one, is not likely to emerge even in the next 100 days, analysts say. Some foresee an increasingly intractable struggle in eastern Ukraine and a growing confrontation between President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia and the West.

New Western arms promised to Ukraine — such as long-range missiles announced by President Biden this week — could help it reclaim some towns, which would be significant for civilians in those areas, said Ian Bremmer, president of the Eurasia Group, a political risk consulting organization. But they are unlikely to dramatically alter the course of the war, he said.

Credit…Finbarr O’Reilly for The New York Times

Squeezed by tightening Western sanctions, Russia, he said, was likely to retaliate with cyberattacks, espionage and disinformation campaigns. And a Russian naval blockade of Ukrainian grain is likely to worsen a food crisis in poor countries.

“What we’re looking at now is what the war in Ukraine is likely to look like in 100 days, not radically different,” Mr. Bremmer said. “But I think the confrontation with the West has the potential to be significantly worse.”

President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine said defiantly Friday that “victory will be ours,” and noted overnight that 50 foreign embassies had resumed “their full-fledged activities” in Kyiv, a sign of the fragile sense of normalcy returning to the capital.

Nevertheless, more than three months into a war that has radically altered Europe’s security calculus, killed thousands on both sides, displaced more than 12 million people and spurred a humanitarian crisis, Russian forces now control one-fifth of the country — an area greater than the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg combined.

Asked during a briefing with reporters what Russia had achieved in Ukraine after 100 days, Dmitri S. Peskov, the presidential spokesman, said that many populated areas had been “liberated” from the Ukrainian military, whom he described as “Nazi-minded,” doubling down on a false narrative the Kremlin has used to justify the invasion.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said Friday that the invasion had caused destruction that “defies comprehension,” adding, “It would be hard to exaggerate the toll that the international armed conflict in Ukraine has had on civilians over the last 100 days.”

Credit…Nicole Tung for The New York Times

More than 4,000 civilians have been killed since Feb. 24, according to U.N. estimates. Ukrainian officials place the death toll much higher.

The war has also set off the largest exodus of refugees in Europe since World War II. More than 8 million Ukrainians have been internally displaced, and more than 6.5 million have fled to other countries, according to the United Nations.

Half of Ukraine’s businesses have closed and 4.8 million jobs have been lost. The U.N. estimates the country’s economic output will fall by half this year. Ninety percent of the population risks falling near or below the poverty line. At least $100 billion in damage has been done to infrastructure.

“We may not have enough weapons, but we are resisting,” said Oleh Kubrianov, a Ukrainian soldier who lost his right leg fighting near the front line, speaking in a raspy voice as he lay in a hospital bed. He still had shrapnel lodged in his neck. “There are many more of us, and we are motivated, and convinced by our victory,” he said.

Indeed, a recent poll found that almost 80 percent of Ukrainians believe the country is “moving in the right direction.”

“The idea of Ukrainian identity expanded,” said Volodymyr Yermolenko, a Ukrainian writer, describing the national sentiment. “More people feel themselves Ukrainian, even those who were doubting their Ukrainian and European identity.”

Credit…Diego Ibarra Sanchez for The New York Times

Russia, too, is suffering from the invasion, geopolitically isolated and facing years of economic dislocation. Its banks have been cut off from Western finance, and with oil production already off by 15 percent, it is losing energy markets in Europe. Its industries are grappling with developing shortages of basic materials, spare parts and high-tech components.

The decisions by Finland and Sweden to abandon more than 70 years of neutrality and apply for membership in NATO have underscored the disastrous strategic costs of the invasion for Russia.

Major Western companies like McDonald’s, Starbucks and Nike have vanished, ostensibly to be replaced by Russian brands. The impact will be less noticeable outside major cities, but with nearly 1,000 foreign companies having left, some consumers have felt the difference as stocks ran low.

While existing stocks have kept much of the country ticking, Russia will soon have much more of a Soviet feel, reverting to an era when Western goods were nonexistent. Some importers will make a fortune bringing in everything from jeans to iPhones to spare engine parts, but the country will become much more self-contained.

“In Russia, the most important economic thing in the last 100 days is that Putin and the elite firmly settled on an autocratic, isolationist course, and the wider elite and public seem supportive,” said Konstantin Sonin, a Russian economist at the University of Chicago.

“It seems that the course is settled, and it will be hard to reverse even if the war ended miraculously quickly,” he added. The next step will likely be a return to more centralized economic planning, he predicted, with the government setting prices and taking over the allocation of certain scarce goods, particularly those needed for military production.

The war is reverberating globally as well. On Friday, Macky Sall, the president of Senegal and chairman of the African Union, appealed directly to Mr. Putin to release Ukraine’s grain as countries across Africa and the Middle East face alarming levels of hunger and starvation.

Credit…Diego Ibarra Sanchez for The New York Times

At a news conference with Mr. Putin in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, Mr. Sall also blamed Western sanctions on Russia for compounding Africa’s food crisis.

“Our countries, although they are far from the theater,” Mr. Sall said, “are victims of this crisis on an economic level.”

Tens of millions of people in Africa are on the brink of severe hunger and famine.

On Friday, Chad, a landlocked nation of 17 million people, declared a food emergency and the United Nations has warned that nearly a third of the country’s population would need humanitarian assistance this year.

For now, peace in Ukraine appears to be nowhere in sight.

On Friday, the skies around Sievierodonetsk, the last major city in the Luhansk region of eastern Ukraine still under Ukrainian control, were heavy with smoke as both armies traded blows in a fierce battle.

Ukrainian troops were moving heavy guns and howitzers along the roads toward the frontline, pouring men and armor into the fight. Russian rockets pummeled an area near Sievierodonetsk late Friday afternoon, landing with multiple heavy explosions that were audible from a nearby village. Missiles streaked through the sky from Ukrainian-held territory toward Russian positions.

Credit…Finbarr O’Reilly for The New York Times

Bruno Tertrais, deputy director of the Paris-based Foundation for Strategic Research, said both sides could become bogged down for months or years in a war of “positions,” rather than movement.

“This is not a bad scenario for Russia, which would maintain its country in a state of war and would wait for fatigue to win over the Westerners,” Mr. Tertrais wrote in a paper for the Institut Montaigne. Russia would already win to some degree, “by putting the occupied regions under its thumb for a long time.”

Nevertheless, Mr. Tertrais believes a progressive material and moral collapse of the Russian effort remains more probable, given Russian troops’ low morale and Ukraine’s general mobilization.

Amin Awad, the United Nations’ crisis coordinator for Ukraine, said that regardless of who wins the conflict, the toll has been “unacceptable.”

“This war has and will have no winner,” Mr. Awad said in a statement. “Rather, we have witnessed for 100 days what is lost: lives, homes, jobs and prospects.”

Reporting was contributed by Carlotta Gall, Dan Bilefsky, Matthew Mpoke Bigg, Cassandra Vinograd, Elian Peltier and Kevin Granville.

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Live Updates: Facing Heavy Losses, Ukraine Slowly Falls Back in East

Amid the roar of artillery and bone-rattling explosions, New York Times photographers have borne graphic witness to the fight to survive. These are their stories and images.

Through the three months of Russia’s invasion, New York Times journalists have chronicled carnage and courage, ruin and resolve, across the wide arc of combat through eastern Ukraine, where Vladimir V. Putin’s brutal offensive is now concentrated.

At the front line and within easy range of it, they have joined civilians whose homes, families and emotions have been shattered, as well as Ukrainian soldiers — hardened veterans and green volunteers — using tools as modern as surveillance drones and as ancient as trenches.

Amid the roar of artillery, the clatter of small arms and bone-rattling explosions, Times photographers have borne graphic witness to the fight to survive and kill — or just survive. These are their accounts and images from the last few weeks of that fight.

On the front line south of Izium, a Russian-captured city just north of the Donetsk region, two Ukrainian 122-mm guns thundered across the rolling landscape last week. They belonged to an artillery detachment of the 93rd Mechanized Brigade, called in to fire on Russian forces who had pinned down Ukrainian troops.

The camouflaged gunners then worked at lightning speed to conceal their position, moving broken branches to hide from view the smoking barrels of the powerful weapons. A young soldier wearing a bandanna and a determined expression burst out of the greenery, sprinting back into the woods to hide from enemy drones. Soon the team was reloading, aiming and firing again.

Credit…Ivor Prickett for The New York Times
Credit… Ivor Prickett for The New York Times
Credit…Ivor Prickett for The New York Times

Along the same front, a dozen members of the 95th Air Assault Brigade camped in a concrete building at an abandoned farmhouse. Throughout the night, in pairs, they took turns on sentry duty from inside a trench system worming down a hillside, overlooking a valley of rolling wheat fields pockmarked with dark clumps of dirt kicked up by the impact of recent shelling by Russian artillery.

Several nearby buildings had been shattered by shelling, and the thump of artillery exchanges between Ukrainian and Russian troops a few miles north rumbled day and night.

Artem Sandul, 20, pulled on a cigarette under the cover of a wood and mud bunker in the trenches as dawn broke. Until Russia invaded on Feb. 24, he had been flipping burgers at a McDonald’s. Now he was cooking for his fellow soldiers, his commander seemingly keeping him back from the most dangerous shelling a couple of miles up the road, where Ukrainian lines were only 400 yards from Russian lines in some places.

Credit…Finbarr O’Reilly for The New York Times
Credit…Finbarr O’Reilly for The New York Times
Credit…Finbarr O’Reilly for The New York Times

Near Izium, jets, most likely Russian, flew low over Ukrainian positions, firing defensive flares to confuse antiaircraft batteries, then made a sharp turn toward the trenches and screamed by so low that they disappeared behind a tree line before vanishing over the horizon.

On Tuesday, in Vuhledar, about 30 miles southeast of the Russian-occupied Donetsk, an artillery team from the 53rd Brigade responded to Russian artillery fire the soldiers said was coming from inside a church about four miles away.

Credit…Finbarr O’Reilly for The New York Times

In Barvinkove, a Ukrainian-held town 20 miles southwest of Izium, a cyclist pedaled past blown-out buildings and a barricade, while at a small base, soldiers drank coffee and a sniper prepared his rifle for a mission. Nearby, Russian forces were trying to push southward, part of a pincer move to trap the Ukrainian troops still holding a pocket of territory in the two eastern provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk.

Credit…Finbarr O’Reilly for The New York Times
Credit…Finbarr O’Reilly for The New York Times
Credit…Finbarr O’Reilly for The New York Times

On the seesawing front line of that pocket lies Bakhmut, a largely evacuated town of blasted building shells, rubble and incinerated vehicles, where two huge craters bracket the administrative building. In newly reinforced defensive positions, Ukrainian soldiers tried to hold off the Russian advance, amid the constant din and ground shudder of artillery fired by both sides.

Credit…Finbarr O’Reilly for The New York Times

In that region, Times photographers encountered evidence of Russian losses, too. Ukraine’s Territorial Defense Forces, mostly volunteer fighters, managed to retake the village of Novopil. With Russian troops still less than half a mile away, the evidence of a fierce battle was everywhere, in the wreckage of houses and the stench of dead bodies.

In front of a small shed, the body of a Russian soldier lay where he had been cut down, his clean, well-polished boots at odds with the surrounding devastation. His brown suede belt bore the hammer and sickle of the Soviet Union.

Near Bilohorivka were the ravaged bodies and tanks of hundreds of Russian troops whose disastrous attempt to cross the Seversky Donets River fell to deadly Ukrainian heavy artillery.

But many of those caught in the destruction did not wear uniforms. Vitaliy Kononenko, 47, had just built a new home for his family in the Zaporizhzhia region in southern Ukraine, but before he could bring his wife and children to see it, it was destroyed.

In the train station in Pokrovsk, in the Donetsk region, Anna Vereschak, 43, boarded a westbound evacuation train with her daughters Milana, 5, and Diana, 4, after bombardment forced them from their village. Another woman, Valentina, ushered her blind 87-year-old mother, Nina, onto the train.

Credit…Lynsey Addario for The New York Times
Credit…Lynsey Addario for The New York Times
Credit…Lynsey Addario for The New York Times

Millions of Ukrainians have fled their homes, particularly from the east, taking only what they can cram into a bag or two, often after holding out for weeks or months in basements despite bombardment, hunger and isolation. Some of the fiercest fighting now is around Sievierodonetsk, in the Luhansk region, the easternmost city still held by Ukraine.

In Lysychansk, just across the bombed-out bridge from Sievierodonetsk, three police officers braved artillery fire to collect the bodies of the dead, like a 65-year-old woman known to neighbors as Grandma Masha. Her dog growled and barked from his kennel as they loaded her into a body bag and then their white van.

Grandma Masha could not get the medicine she needed to treat her diabetes, according to a neighbor, Lena, 39. Her son had left with his family and was not able to return when she fell ill.

“It’s a completely stupid war — but no one asked for my opinion,” said Lena, who, like most people interviewed, gave only her first name because she feared for her safety.

In an apartment block in Sievierodonetsk, already partially blasted and burned by shelling, residents huddled in the basement, resigned, at last, to evacuation. They barely reacted to the sounds of explosion and nearby gunfire.

Credit…Finbarr O’Reilly for The New York Times
Credit…Finbarr O’Reilly for The New York Times
Credit…Finbarr O’Reilly for The New York Times

Across the eastern Donetsk and Luhansk provinces, and the southern part of the Kharkiv region, Times photographers found Ukrainian troops in every imaginable phase of daily life in a combat zone.

In an underground bunker were dozens of members of the Carpathian Sich Battalion — eating, sleeping, cleaning their weapons and chatting on cellphones with their wives and girlfriends. Some gathered around a monitor to watch drone video of a recent attack. Most smoked.

The floor and walls of the bunker quaked as a tank round hit a nearby building, and small-arms fire followed. Bullets ricocheted off walls outside. The Russians were close.

A handful of Ukrainian soldiers dashed outside to repel the attack, while others collected their weapons and waited by the door in case they were needed. They weren’t; the shooting subsided.

One soldier lit a stove and began frying buckwheat.

Credit…Lynsey Addario for The New York Times
Credit…Lynsey Addario for The New York Times
Credit…Lynsey Addario for The New York Times

At a well-guarded and heavily fortified checkpoint, fighters built more trenches and bunkers, using sandbags and rough-hewn logs, in preparation for a possible Russian advance in their direction. Warned of incoming artillery fire, they ducked into a bunker, and a medic in the group boasted that their hideouts could take almost anything the Russians might fire at them.

Credit…Ivor Prickett for The New York Times

The evidence of war was strewn across the ravaged landscape. Wreckage was everywhere, from collapsed buildings and buckled streets to burned-out tanks. A common sight was the tail of a rocket sticking out of the ground, a reminder of the constant danger from above.

The smells and sounds of war were everywhere, too. Few civilians were around, but troops were omnipresent, patrolling, scavenging, resting and building fortifications when they were not fighting.

Credit…Ivor Prickett for The New York Times
Credit…Ivor Prickett for The New York Times
Credit… Ivor Prickett for The New York Times

After their armored vehicle broke down, a dozen soldiers from Ukraine’s 95th Air Assault Brigade recently stood by a roadside near the city of Kramatorsk, smoking, like stranded commuters waiting for a lift.

An attempt to tow them failed, so the soldiers, with their weapons, piled aboard another armored vehicle and set off in the day’s fading light toward the front.

Credit…Finbarr O’Reilly for The New York Times
Credit…Finbarr O’Reilly for The New York Times
Credit…Finbarr O’Reilly for The New York Times

The men of the 93rd Brigade are at the forefront of efforts to hold off the Russian advance south of Izium. Small units of mortar teams have camped out in destroyed villages, battling Russian forces that have thrown everything at them.

They spoke of enduring days of near-constant shelling, sheltering in dank basements, surrounded by jars of pickled vegetables.

Thoughts rarely strayed far from the lethal stakes, but between such harrowing episodes, it was striking how the ordinary business of life, like a highway breakdown, never quite disappeared.

A kiosk in Bakhmut did a brisk trade serving coffee, burgers and sandwiches to soldiers coming and going from the fighting.

Credit…Ivor Prickett for The New York Times
Credit… Ivor Prickett for The New York Times
Credit…Ivor Prickett for The New York Times

In Barvinkove, which has come under heavy Russian bombardment, a few local women were still hawking vegetables and dairy products under the shade of a tree in the town center. A passing soldier, back from the front to refuel, asked to buy some herbs.

The woman refused to take payment for her goods, waving him off and wishing him well.

Credit…Finbarr O’Reilly for The New York Times

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Live Updates: War Raises Famine Fears as Russia Chokes Off Ukraine’s Grains

DAVOS, Switzerland — Fears of a global food crisis are swelling as Russian attacks on Ukraine’s ability to produce and export grain have choked off one of the world’s breadbaskets, fueling charges that President Vladimir V. Putin is using food as a powerful new weapon in his three-month-old war.

World leaders called on Tuesday for international action to deliver 20 million tons of grain now trapped in Ukraine, predicting that the alternative could be hunger in some countries and political unrest in others, in what could be the gravest global repercussion yet of Russia’s assault on its neighbor. At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where worries about the war’s consequences have eclipsed almost every other issue, speakers reached for apocalyptic language to describe the threat.

“It’s a perfect storm within a perfect storm,” said David Beasley, the executive director of the World Food Program, a United Nations agency. Calling the situation “absolutely critical,” he warned, “We will have famines around the world.”

The world’s food distribution network was already strained by pandemic-related disruptions, and exports from Ukraine, ordinarily among the world’s biggest suppliers, have plummeted because of the war. Russia has seized some the country’s Black Sea ports and blockaded the rest, trapping cargo vessels laden with corn, wheat, sunflower seeds, barley and oats.

Russian forces have taken control of some of Ukraine’s most productive farmland, destroyed Ukrainian infrastructure that is vital to raising and shipping grain, and littered farm fields with explosives. Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Union’s executive branch, told the political and business leaders gathered in Davos that Russia — an even bigger exporter — had confiscated Ukrainian grain stocks and agricultural machinery.

“On top of this,” she said, “Russia is now hoarding its own food exports as a form of blackmail, holding back supplies to increase global prices, or trading wheat in exchange for political support.”

Credit…Diego Ibarra Sanchez for The New York Times

The fighting in Ukraine is increasingly concentrated in a small pocket of the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine, where Russia’s battered forces are making slow, bloody progress as they try to encircle the strategically important city of Sievierodonetsk, the easternmost Ukrainian stronghold.

Within the city, once an industrial hub, the devastation from Russian artillery is evident on every street in the form of shattered buildings, burned-out vehicles and cratered pavement. Russian pincers approaching the city from the north and south are separated by just 16 miles, but face “strong Ukrainian resistance,” the British Defense Ministry said on Tuesday.

Three months into the war, the United States and its allies have shown remarkable solidarity so far in supporting Ukraine with weapons and other aid, and in punishing Russia with economic sanctions, but the limits of that unity are being tested. Finland and Sweden have signaled that they want to abandon their long-held neutrality to join NATO, but that plan is being held up by one member country, Turkey. At the same time, Hungary is blocking an E.U. plan to embargo imports of Russian oil.

Within both blocs, officials have offered assurances, without specifics, that the roadblocks will soon be overcome. Jens Stoltenberg, the NATO secretary general, said Tuesday that he was confident Sweden and Finland would join the alliance, though “I cannot tell you exactly how and when.” Diplomats from the two Nordic countries traveled to Turkey for talks on the issue.

The European Union, heavily dependent on Russian fuels, has already agreed to a phased embargo on natural gas from Russia, and the head of the International Energy Agency, Fatih Birol, warned that Europe could face gas rationing next winter.

“I’m advising several European governments to prepare a contingency plan,” Mr. Birol said at Davos. He added that “Europe is paying for its over-dependence on Russian energy.”

Ukraine has applied to join the European Union, and on Tuesday its government rejected a French proposal for something short of full membership. Russia has vehemently opposed any expansion of NATO and E.U. membership for Ukraine, but its aggression has backfired, making those associations more attractive to its neighbors.

Increasingly isolated, the Kremlin has looked to Beijing for support, and Russia held joint military maneuvers on Tuesday with China, their first since the war in Ukraine began. The show of force included bomber flights over the Sea of Japan, while President Biden was not far away, in Tokyo, for meetings with world leaders.

Credit…Finbarr O’Reilly for The New York Times

But the food crisis took center stage at Davos, where President Andrzej Duda of Poland warned that famine in Africa and elsewhere would prompt a flood of migration to Europe, where searing memories are fresh of the 2015-2016 migration wave that strained E.U. unity and empowered xenophobic nationalist movements.

Ukraine and Russia ordinarily account for about one-quarter of the grain traded internationally; in recent years, Ukraine had exported an average of about 3.5 million tons of per month. In March, only 300,000 tons were shipped out, though exports rebounded somewhat to more than a million tons in April and could reach 1.5 million tons in May, said Roman Slaston, the chief of Ukraine’s agricultural industry group.

Ukraine’s agriculture ministry says that the Black Sea blockade has prevented 14 million tons of corn, 7 million tons of wheat and 3 million tons of sunflower seeds from reaching world markets. Ukrainian officials have accused Moscow of stealing Ukraine’s produce and then selling it abroad as Russian.

Western officials are circulating proposals for getting grain out of Ukraine, such as having multiple countries send warships to escort cargo ships from Ukrainian ports and run the blockade, but that runs the danger of a shooting confrontation with Russian vessels. Sending ships from NATO countries is considered particularly risky — like the rejected idea of having NATO members enforce a no-fly zone to keep Russian warplanes away from Ukraine — so much of the talk has been about countries outside the alliance taking part.

But Mr. Stoltenberg, the NATO chief, warned that breaking the Black Sea blockade would be very hard.

“Is it possible to get it out on ships? That is a difficult task. It’s not an easy way forward,” he said.

Ukraine has continued to ship grain overland through Europe, and work is underway to expand such routes, Ms. von der Leyen and Mr. Slaston said — but doing so on a scale great enough to replace seagoing shipment would be very difficult. The railways in Eastern Europe use different gauges, which means switching equipment when going long distances, and many of Ukraine’s railroads, highways and bridges have been damaged by Russian attacks.

Credit…Diego Ibarra Sanchez for The New York Times

One farmer said he lost 50 rail cars full of grain when his cargo got stranded between Russian airstrikes in front of and behind the train.

But the problem is not limited to shipping — farming, itself, has been greatly diminished by the war. In some places, fighting has simply made the work too dangerous. In others, Russian strikes on fuel depots have left farmers unable to power their tractors.

Farmers accuse Russian forces of regularly targeting their grain silos and seizing their grain stores, particularly in the south.

And perhaps most frightening are the countless mines left by retreating Russian forces, especially in the north. The Ukrainian Deminers Association, a group that locates and removes explosives, says nearly 45 percent of the fields it has inspected in the Kyiv and Chernihiv regions were mined.

Gordie Siebring, a farmer based near the Belarusian border, said Ukrainian military authorities warned him he could not sow the fields closest to the frontier because of the mine threat, meaning he has been unable to plant 8 to 10 percent of his field. Neighboring farmers have it much worse, he said, because Russian mines have made over two-thirds of their fields too dangerous to use.

“If they are as close as 10 to 15 kilometers away, they can launch mines with artillery,” he said. “These mines have small parachutes and land in the fields and have sensors that cause detonation later. Those are really causing havoc.”

Another threat to global supplies, experts say, is that countries will hoard their own food stocks. Robert Habeck, the vice chancellor and minister of economic affairs of Germany, said countries should curb their use of grain to make biofuel and to feed livestock.

“Markets have to stay open,” Mr. Habeck said in an interview. “The worst thing that can happen now is that every country cares for its own supply, saves all the wheat, saves all the food, and does not give it to the market, because then we have no chance of securing the food supply.”

Credit…Finbarr O’Reilly for The New York Times

Before the war, droughts in North America and the Horn of Africa, poor harvests in China and France, and the pandemic were already squeezing food supplies, leaving the world uncommonly vulnerable. By December, global wheat prices had risen about 80 percent in a little over a year, according to the International Monetary Fund.

Even before Russian tanks rolled across Ukraine’s border, experts were warning of “a massive surge in food insecurity and the threat of famine,” said Adam Tooze, director of the European Institute at Columbia University.

The war, he said, is “impacting an incredibly fragile food system.”

At the same time, the spike in oil and gas prices caused by the war has triggered an even sharper increase in the cost of fertilizers made in part from those fuels.

Ms. von der Leyen said E.U. countries were increasing their own grain production and working with the World Food Program to ship available stocks to vulnerable countries at affordable prices.

“Global cooperation is the antidote to Russia’s blackmail,” she said.

Mark Landler, Matina Stevis-Gridneff and Patricia Cohen reported from Davos, Switzerland, and Erika Solomon from Lviv, Ukraine. Reporting was contributed by Carlotta Gall from Sievierodonetsk, Ukraine; Edward Wong from Washington; Matthew Mpoke Bigg from Krakow, Poland; and Monika Pronczuk from Brussels.

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Live Updates: Russia Moves to Annex Areas It Has Seized in Southeast Ukraine

KRAKOW, Poland — Fresh from its triumph over the last armed Ukrainian resistance in the devastated city of Mariupol, Russia appeared to be laying the groundwork Thursday for annexing swaths of southeast Ukraine, described by a high-ranking Kremlin official as having a “worthy place in our Russian family.’’

The official, Marat Khusnullin, Russia’s deputy prime minister for infrastructure, toured the region this week and outlined plans to take full control of vital infrastructure, including Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, as Russia fortified its defensive positions there and exerted its authority over the local population.

“I came here to provide maximum opportunities for integration,” Mr. Khusnullin was quoted by Russian news media as saying.

In a further sign that Moscow was preparing to push for the Russification of the region — the way it has in Crimea since seizing it from Ukraine in 2014 — Russian officials have already moved to introduce the ruble currency, install proxy politicians in local governments, impose new school curriculums, reroute internet servers through Russia and cut the population off from Ukrainian broadcasts.

Mr. Khusnullin said Russia even intended to charge Ukraine for electricity generated by the Ukrainian nuclear plant that Russian forces commandeered in the early weeks of the invasion — a plan that Ukraine described as extortion.

Russia’s moves came as the United States sought to further escalate pressure on the Kremlin. President Biden vowed to help gain speedy approval of applications to join NATO by formerly neutral Finland and Sweden, as he welcomed the leaders of those countries to the White House and as U.S. officials expressed confidence that they could satisfy Turkey’s objections to Finnish and Swedish membership. And the Senate overwhelmingly approved a $40 billion aid package for Ukraine that Mr. Biden was set to sign into law.

Even as the Russian authorities projected control over a Ukrainian region that is culturally close to Russia, President Vladimir V. Putin appeared to be punishing military subordinates for blunders in the three-month-old invasion.

A report by Britain’s defense intelligence agency suggested the Kremlin was conducting a purge of senior commanders deemed responsible for the failures of Russia’s initial strategy to seize much more Ukraine territory, including the capital, Kyiv, and second-largest city, Kharkiv. The report raised the question of whether Mr. Putin retained faith in his chief of the general staff, Valery Gerasimov.

The Russians have said nothing about any changes in the military leadership.

Credit…Olga Maltseva/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Russia’s new, narrower strategy of focusing on Ukraine’s east has proved more successful than its initially greater aims, even as its forces have retreated in the northeast and struggled to gain ground in the eastern Donbas region.

Following the longest battle of the war, Russian soldiers completed their capture of Mariupol on Tuesday after having seized control of the sprawling Azovstal steel plant, the last redoubt of Ukrainian defenders. More than 700 fighters from the Azov battalion, die-hards who had made a final stand against the Russians from the plant, surrendered between Wednesday and Thursday, according to the Russian Defense Ministry, bringing the total number of captives to 1,730.

The Kremlin has been using the mass surrender for propaganda purposes, describing its captives as terrorists and Nazi war criminals, and framing the conquest of Mariupol as a turning point in the conflict.

Although much of Mariupol is ruined, the capture of the port city is expected to bring Russia concrete benefits. It will complete a long-sought land bridge between the Russian-controlled Crimean peninsula to the south and the adjoining region known as Donbas, where pro-Russian separatists have battled Ukrainian forces since the Crimea annexation.

With Mariupol captured, Russian troops are now freed to help entrench Russia’s authority over the rest of the eastern region — well short of Moscow’s initial push to control all of Ukraine, but strong leverage in any future peace negotiations.

Credit…Andrey Borodulin/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The fighting has settled into a stalemate along most of the front.

Stiff Ukrainian resistance is forcing Russian troops to fight in smaller formations and seek more limited objectives elsewhere in the Donbas region, a senior Pentagon official said on Thursday.

“They’re going after smaller objectives,” the senior official said of the Russian goals, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss operational details of American defense intelligence work. “And sometimes those objectives are only maintained for a short period of time before the Ukrainians take them back. They’re just being more modest in what they’re trying to go after.”

The shift in Russian tactics reflects not only the resilient Ukrainian defense, but also the nagging command, logistics and morale problems that continued to bedevil Russian commanders, especially in the hotly contested Donbas, the official said.

The southern region under Russian control covers a vast expanse that includes Ukraine’s agricultural heartland and several key ports. Along with Russia’s naval dominion in the Black Sea, annexation would tighten Moscow’s stranglehold on the Ukrainian economy and solidify its blockade of Ukraine’s southern coast.

In another possible sign of steps to entrench Russia’s control, its troops closed checkpoints on Thursday for civilians crossing between Russian-occupied zones and Ukrainian controlled areas in two regions, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia, according to the Ukrainian military and local authorities.

Credit…Olga Maltseva/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

At one checkpoint, near the town of Vasilyevka, a line of cars transporting mostly women and children seeking to evacuate Russian-held areas stretched through farm fields. Ukrainian officials estimated more than 1,000 cars waited at the crossing, said Zlata Nekrasova, the deputy governor of the Ukrainian regional government in Zaporizhzhia.

The Ukrainians have accused Russia of forcibly deporting thousands to Russia and witnesses have described increasingly repressive efforts to enforce Russian rule.  

The Kremlin has sought to portray its actions as reflecting popular will. Dmitri S. Peskov, the Kremlin’s spokesman, appeared to play down the significance of Mr. Khusnullin’s statements signaling annexation, saying only locals could decide.

But in a move that some analysts regarded as reflecting confusion within the Russian leadership about how to secure Ukrainian areas seized by Russia, a group of lawmakers on Thursday submitted a bill to the State Duma that would allow Mr. Putin to establish “temporary administrations on territories where Russia’s army conducts military operations.”

Mr. Khusnullin said that Russia would soon begin charging Ukraine for electricity from the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, which Russia has controlled since early March. When fully operational, the plant can produce enough energy for four million homes.

Ukraine’s energy provider, NPC Ukrenergo, which called Mr. Khusnullin’s statement nuclear blackmail, said the real aim was to give Russia electricity leverage over Ukraine and the rest of Europe. It noted that the plant was part of the Ukrainian power grid and unequipped to deliver power to Russia.

Credit…Andrey Borodulin/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Moscow’s announcements were also part of a propaganda campaign aimed at conveying control over areas where its grip is less solid. Military analysts have said Russia’s forces could still face Ukrainian uprisings and counteroffensives.

Russia’s invasion in February, spearheaded by a rapid advance of tanks and helicopters, ultimately led to many Russian casualties, including some senior generals on the battlefield. The finger-pointing has started, Britain’s defense intelligence agency said in its Thursday report.

It said the commander of the elite 1st Guards Tank Army, Lt. Gen. Serhiy Kisel, had been suspended for failure to capture Kharkiv, where Ukrainian forces have not only counterattacked but driven the invaders back toward the Russian border 40 miles away.

The British agency also reported that the commander of Russia’s Black Sea fleet, Vice Adm. Igor Osipov, had likely been suspended following the April sinking of the fleet’s flagship, the cruiser Moskva. Asked about the report, a senior Pentagon went further, saying the commander had been dismissed.

General Gerasimov, Russia’s highest ranking uniformed officer, “likely remains in post but it is unclear whether he retains the confidence” of Mr. Putin, the British report said.

But in a signal that General Gerasimov remained in good standing, he spoke on Thursday by phone with Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Pentagon said. It was their first call since the invasion.

Credit…Pool photo by Alexei Nikolsky

In the port city of Kherson, in the south near the border with Crimea, Mr. Khusnullin inspected infrastructure, including the port, a cargo railway station and a factory.

“We will live and work together,” he said, adding that Russia had already allocated funds to restore the city’s roads.

“We will now eat tomatoes and tomato paste more often in Russia thanks to the work of Kherson’s agricultural producers,” Mr. Khusnullin said, alluding to Kherson’s longtime role as a breadbasket and a global exporter.

But even as he spoke, Ukrainian officials said a convoy of civilian cars trying to flee the region came under fire from Russian soldiers. Roughly half of the million people who once lived in the region have fled, with witnesses who escaped offering harrowing stories of Russian repression.

In Kyiv, a committee in Ukraine’s Parliament accused Russia of having robbed Kherson of 400,000 tons of grain, sending it to Russia and creating conditions that “may lead to famine in the occupied territories.”

A Russian naval blockade of Ukraine’s ports is preventing Ukraine from exporting millions more tons, putting tens of millions of people worldwide at risk of hunger and famine, the U.N. secretary general, António Guterres, said Thursday at a U.N. conference on food security.

Credit…Finbarr O’Reilly for The New York Times

Marc Santora reported from Krakow, Poland, Ivan Nechepurenko from Tbilisi, Georgia, and Norimitsu Onishi from Paris. Reporting was contributed by Matthew Mpoke Bigg from Krakow, Eric Schmitt, Helene Cooper and David E. Sanger from Washington, Valerie Hopkins and Andrew E. Kramer from Kyiv, Shashank Bengali from London, Anton Troianovski from Brussels and Rick Gladstone from New York.

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The World Tries to Move Beyond Covid. China May Stand in the Way.

As the rest of the world learns to live with Covid-19, China’s top leader, Xi Jinping, wants his country to keep striving to live without it — no matter the cost.

China won a battle against its first outbreak in Wuhan, Mr. Xi said last week, and “we will certainly be able to win the battle to defend Shanghai,” he added, referring to the epicenter of the current outbreak in China.

summarized it as “zero movement, zero G.D.P.” Multinational companies have grown wary of further investments in the country.

For more than two years, China kept its Covid numbers enviably low by doggedly reacting to signs of an outbreak with testing and snap lockdowns. The success allowed the Communist Party to boast that it had prioritized life over death in the pandemic, unlike Western democracies where deaths from the virus soared.

More transmissible variants like Omicron threaten to dent that success, posing a dilemma for Mr. Xi and the Chinese Communist Party. Harsher lockdowns have been imposed to keep infections from spreading, stifling economic activity and threatening millions of jobs. Chinese citizens have grown restless, pushing back against being forced to stay home or to move into grim, government-run isolation facilities.

politically important year for Mr. Xi, China’s censors have moved quickly to muffle calls for a change in course on Covid-19. The head of the World Health Organization, whose recommendations China once held up as a model, was silenced this week when he called on the country to rethink its strategy.

Photographs and references to Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director general of the W.H.O., were promptly scrubbed from the Chinese internet after the statement. The foreign ministry responded by calling Mr. Tedros’s remarks “irresponsible,” and accusing the W.H.O. of not having a “proper understanding of the facts.”

China’s state-controlled media has also glossed over the draconian measures officials have deployed to deal with outbreaks. This week, as some authorities in Shanghai erected new fences around quarantine zones, boarded up more homes and asked residents not to leave their apartments, state media painted a picture of a city slowly returning to normal.

One article described the “hustle and bustle of city life” returning, while another focused on statistics for how many stores had reopened.

has not happened. Several Chinese companies are in the testing phase of a homegrown mRNA option, and China also recently approved for emergency use a Covid-19 antiviral pill made by Pfizer called Paxlovid.

Administering three vaccine shots, using antiviral therapies and offering more effective vaccines could help China find a path out of zero Covid, Mr. Ajelli said.

disappointing winter wheat harvest in June could drive food prices — already high because of the war in Ukraine and bad weather in Asia and the United States — further up, compounding hunger in the world’s poorest countries.

By one estimate, nearly 400 million people in 45 cities have been under some form of lockdown in China in the past month, accounting for $7.2 trillion in annual gross domestic product. Economists are concerned that the lockdowns will have a major impact on growth; one economist has warned that if lockdown measures remain in place for another month, China could enter into a recession.

European and American multinational companies have said they are discussing ways to shift some of their operations out of China. Big companies that increasingly depend on China’s consumer market for growth are also sounding the alarm. Apple said it could see a $4 billion to $8 billion hit to its sales because of the lockdowns.

struggle to find and keep jobs during lockdowns.

Even as daily virus cases in Shanghai are steadily dropping, authorities have tightened measures in recent days following Mr. Xi’s call last week to double down. Officials also began to force entire residential buildings into government isolation if just one resident tested positive.

The new measures are harsher than those early on in the pandemic and have been met with pockets of unrest, previously rare in China where citizens have mostly supported the country’s pandemic policies.

In one video widely circulated online before it was taken down by censors, an exasperated woman shouts as officials in white hazmat suits smash her door down to take her away to an isolation facility. She protests and asks them to give her evidence that she has tested positive. Eventually she takes her phone to call the police.

“If you called the police,” one of the men replies, “I’d still be the one coming.”

Isabelle Qian contributed reporting, and Claire Fu contributed research.

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Live Updates: Russian Pullback Seen Near Kharkiv, Despite Victory Day Push for Gains

SLOVIANSK, Ukraine — Russia’s push to give its president a showcase victory in Ukraine appeared to face a new setback on Saturday, as Ukrainian defenders pushed the invaders back toward the northeast border and away from the city of Kharkiv, with the Russians blowing up bridges behind them.

With less than 48 hours before President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia aimed to lead his country in Victory Day celebrations commemorating the Soviet triumph over Nazi Germany, the apparent Russian pullback from the area around Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, contradicted the Russian narrative and illustrated the complicated picture along the 300-mile front in eastern Ukraine.

The Russians have been trying to advance in eastern Ukraine for the past few weeks and have been pushing especially hard as Victory Day approaches, but Ukrainian forces — armed with new weapons supplied by the United States and other Western nations — have been pushing back in a counteroffensive.

The destruction of three bridges by Russian forces, about 12 miles northeast of Kharkiv, reported by the Ukrainian military, suggested that the Russians not only were trying to prevent the Ukrainians from pursuing them, but had no immediate plans to return.

A senior Ukrainian official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the fighting, said Russian forces were destroying bridges not to retreat but because “we are pushing them out.”

Credit…Serhii Nuzhnenko/Reuters

He said the fight for Kharkiv was not over, and that although “at the moment we are dominating,” Russian forces were trying to regroup and go on the offensive.

Some military analysts said the Russian actions were similar to what Russia’s military had done last month in a retreat from the city of Chernihiv north of Kyiv.

Frederick W. Kagan, a military historian and a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington-based public policy research group, said Russia’s strategy near Kharkiv could be an indicator that “the order to retreat to somewhere had been given and they were trying to set up a defensive line.”

Ukrainian forces have retaken a constellation of towns and villages in the outskirts of Kharkiv this past week, putting them in position to unseat Russian forces from the region and reclaim total control of the city “in a matter of days,” according to a recent analysis by the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based research group.

The setback is now forcing the Russian military to choose whether to send reinforcements intended for elsewhere in eastern Ukraine to help defend the positions on the outskirts of Kharkiv, the institute said.

The back-and-forth around Kharkiv is part of a more complex battlefield in eastern Ukraine that has left an increasing number of towns and cities trapped in a “gray zone,” stuck between Russian and Ukrainian forces, where they are subject to frequent, sometimes indiscriminate, shelling.

Credit…Jorge Silva/Reuters

“The Russian occupiers continue to destroy the civilian infrastructure of the Kharkiv region,” the region’s governor, Oleh Sinegubov, said in a Telegram post on Saturday, adding that shelling and artillery attacks overnight had targeted several districts, destroying a national museum in the village of Skovorodynivka.

For Russia, perhaps the best example of anything resembling a victory was the long-besieged southeastern port city of Mariupol. Although much of the city has been destroyed by Russian bombardments, there were growing indications on Saturday that Russia’s control of the city was nearly complete.

The Ukrainian Ministry of Defense’s intelligence directorate said in a Saturday statement that Russian officers were being moved from combat positions and sent to protect a Russian military parade being planned in Mariupol.

Petro Andrushchenko, an adviser to the city council, posted a series of photos to Telegram on Friday that appeared to show how Russian forces were restoring “monuments of the Soviet period” across the city.

Credit…Ricardo Moraes/Reuters

One image appeared to show a Russian flag flying above an intensive care hospital. Another image, posted on Thursday, showed municipal workers replacing Ukrainian road signs with signs in Russian script. The images could not be verified.

On Friday, 50 people were evacuated from the city’s Azovstal steel plant, the final holdout of Ukrainian forces and a group of civilians in the city. Three Ukrainian soldiers were killed on Friday during an attempt to evacuate civilians from the plant, said Mikhailo Vershinin, the chief of the city’s patrol police.

Mr. Vershinin, who was at the plant, said via a messaging app on Saturday that a rocket and a grenade were to blame. “Six were wounded, some seriously,” he said, and in the factory’s makeshift hospital, “there is no medicine, no anesthesia, no antibiotics and they may die.”

Both Ukrainian and Russian officials said Saturday that all civilian evacuations from the Mariupol factory had been completed.

There was no immediate confirmation from the Red Cross or United Nations, which have been helping to coordinate recent evacuations from the factory. A spokeswoman for the Red Cross said earlier on Saturday that efforts to evacuate the remaining civilians were “ongoing.”

Credit…Alessandro Guerra/EPA, via Shutterstock

Elsewhere, Russia launched six missile strikes on Saturday aimed at Odesa, Ukraine’s Black Sea port, according to the city council. Four hit a furniture company and destroyed two high-rise buildings in the blast, and two missiles were fired on the city’s airport, which already had been rendered inoperable by a Russian missile that knocked out its runway last week.

The goal of Russian forces — for now at least — appears to be seizing as much of the eastern Ukrainian region known as the Donbas as possible, by expelling Ukrainian forces that have been fighting Russian-backed separatists for years in the provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk. Since Russia’s invasion began on Feb. 24, about 80 percent of those two provinces have fallen under the Kremlin’s control.

The regional governor of Luhansk in eastern Ukraine, Serhiy Haidai, said on Facebook on Saturday that a Russian bomb hit a school in the village of Bilogorivka where about 90 people had taken shelter. About 30 people have been rescued so far, he said. The bodies of at least two people were recovered from the rubble, according to Ukraine’s State Emergency Service. Rescue operations were suspended on Saturday night and were to resume on Sunday, officials said.

Russian forces are trying to break through Ukrainian lines and encircle troops defending the area around the eastern city of Sievierodonetsk but are for now being held in check, Mr. Haidai said on Saturday.

“It is a war, so anything can happen, but for now the situation is difficult but under control,” Mr. Haidai said in a telephone interview. “They have broken through in some places and these areas are being reinforced.”

The Russians seemed “unlikely to successfully surround the town,” according to the latest update from the Institute for the Study of War.

Credit…Yasuyoshi Chiba/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The apparent aim of Russia’s military is to seize Sievierodonetsk or cut it off from the bulk of Ukrainian forces fighting in the east, and continue a push south to the major industrial city of Kramatorsk.

Mr. Haidai said Russia’s military had deployed units with better training and more combat experience than the Russian soldiers who were initially thrown into the invasion.

“In the beginning, they sent in newly mobilized soldiers from occupied territory,” he said. “But they can’t fight. They aren’t dressed in flack jackets. And so they just died by the dozen or the hundred. But they’re running out of these.”

Mr. Haidai said he had urged anyone who could to evacuate, but that about 15,000 people remained in Sievierodonetsk. Some, he said, are older and “want to die in the place where they were born.”

By contrast in the capital, Kyiv, and much of the country’s west, the atmosphere seemed worlds away from the constant bombardment of the war — despite the occasional and unpredictable Russian missile strikes. Cars have returned to Kyiv’s streets and people living there have resumed some semblance of their normal routines.

In an apparent concern over complacency, President Volodymyr Zelensky reminded residents to heed local curfews and take air raid sirens seriously.

“Please, this is your life, the life of your children,” he implored Ukrainians in an overnight address.

Residents of towns and villages in the country’s east have often been shaken awake with bomb attacks, typically between 4 and 5 a.m.

On Saturday morning, the small village of Malotaranivka became a target. A bomb struck at about 4:15 a.m., blasting apart homes and a small bakery, leaving a crater at least 15 feet deep and a wide radius of destruction. While no one was killed, residents expressed fury at the Russians.

Credit…Lynsey Addario for The New York Times

“What kind of military target is this?” said Tatyana Ostakhova, 38, speaking through the gaping hole in her goddaughter’s apartment where she was helping to clean up. “A store that bakes bread so people don’t die of hunger?”

Such strikes have occurred with more frequency in the prelude to Victory Day in Russia, which Mr. Putin was expected to use as a platform for some kind of announcement about what he has called the “special military operation” in Ukraine.

“It’s like we’re in a dream,” said Svetlana Golochenko, 43, who was cleaning up the remnants of her son’s house. “It’s hard to imagine that this is happening to us.”

Malotaranivka is a small village of single-family homes and wood-framed apartment buildings about eight miles from Kramatorsk. Residents said that aside from a few checkpoints there was no military presence in the area, making the bombings by Russians even more incomprehensible.

“Who knows what they have in their empty heads,” said Artur Serdyuk, 38, who was covered in dust and smoking a cigarette after spending the morning cleaning up what was left of his home.

Mr. Serdyuk said he had just returned to bed after going out for a middle-of-the-night cigarette when the explosion hit. The blast blew the roof off his home and incinerated his outhouse, leaving nothing but a roll of toilet paper sitting in a pile of dust near the hole for the latrine.

His neighbor’s home was opened like a dollhouse, allowing a reporter to peer into the remains of the kitchen decorated with wallpaper featuring green peacocks.

Credit…Lynsey Addario for The New York Times

Michael Schwirtz reported from Sloviansk, and Cora Engelbrecht and Megan Specia reported from London. Ivan Nechepurenko contributed reporting from Tblisi, Georgia.

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Lula launches presidential bid, says to defend Brazil’s democracy

SAO PAULO, May 7 (Reuters) – Former leftist President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva launched his presidential bid on Saturday calling on Brazilians to unite behind him to defend Brazil’s democracy from the authoritarian government of far-right President Jair Bolsonaro.

Without mentioning Bolsonaro by name, Lula told supporters at a rally that his adversary was unable to govern and lied constantly to the nation to hide his incompetence.

“The most serious moment the country is going through forces us to overcome our differences and build an alternative path to the incompetence and authoritarianism that govern us,” he said.

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“We want to join democrats of all political positions, classes, races and religious beliefs … to defeat the totalitarian threat, the hatred, violence and discrimination hanging over our country,” he said to a cheering crowd.

The rally was called a “pre-launch” to comply with Brazilian election law that says official campaigning for the October election starts in August.

Recent opinion polls show Lula maintaining a comfortable advantage over his rival if the election were held today, though Bolsonaro has gained ground by boosting welfare spending and traveling around the country.

Bolsonaro has repeatedly questioned Brazil’s electronic voting system, raising fears he might not admit defeat.

Lula said he has forged a widening alliance of seven left-of-center parties so far, and has picked centrist former Sao Paulo governor Geraldo Alckmin for his running mate to draw moderate voters not happy with Bolsonaro’s administration.

Lula stressed his achievements during his two terms from 2003-2010 when Brazil grew fast due to a commodities super-boom, allowing his government to raise millions from poverty.

“Brazil has returned to the somber past we thought we had overcome,” he said, mentioning the rise of hunger among poor Brazilians.

Alckmin addressed the rally remotely by video after testing positive for COVID-19.

Lula, a 76-year-old widower, said he was in love with his girlfriend Rosangela da Silva. They plan to marry on May 18.

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Reporting by Lisandra Paraguassu; Writing by Marcela Ayres; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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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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