The challenges of making that happen, though, become clear when climbing the confined, 334-step stairwell that winds up to the belfry. Also evident: the quality of the renovation.

Bright morning light shone in through the four restored clock faces — perched high above the Houses of Parliament — each with 324 pieces of pot opal glass produced in Germany. Newly refurbished golden orbs that decorate the tower’s stonework glinted in the sun.

The sheer size of Big Ben, weighing a little over 15 tons, is impressive, as is the intricacy of a clock mechanism based on the most advanced technology available to its 19th-century creators. It still loses no more than a second in accuracy a week.

The Elizabeth Tower is not the first clock tower to watch over Parliament — that one is thought to date from around 1290. In 1834, a fire destroyed the Palace of Westminster, leading to the construction of the modern-day building that is one of the most famous examples of Gothic Revival architecture in the world.

And when the original clock tower was built, it was constructed with a rising scaffold, “so it rose as if by magic, it was noted at the time,” Mr. Watrobski said.

In May 1859, crowds lined the streets to greet Big Ben’s arrival. The enormous bell was pulled by 16 horses to Westminster, where it took 18 hours to haul it nearly 200 feet to the belfry before it could first ring out.

Back then, the clock tower was the most advanced and ambitious public building of its age, but by 2017, stonework was deteriorating, water was leaking into the belfry, and the steps, ironwork and guttering were all in need of repair. There was even still damage dating from 1941, when Parliament was bombed during World War II.

“Like all historic buildings, you don’t really know until you peel off the skin what you are going to find underneath,” Mr. Watrobski said. “There was a considerable amount of damage to cast iron and to stonework.”

The restoration work has gone a long way to modernizing the Elizabeth Tower, which will reopen this year to tourists. But the improvements will benefit visitors and maintenance staff alike.

An elevator has been installed, as has a restroom at the top — the lack of which previously meant Big Ben’s maintenance workers had to trek down the 334 steps whenever they were in need of one. There is even now a spot for the staff to make tea.

While Big Ben needs constant maintenance, the clock had never been fully serviced until this restoration. After it was dismantled, it was secreted away from London, more than 280 miles, to the workshop of the Cumbria Clock Company in northwestern England.

Given its symbolic importance, its whereabouts while being serviced was never disclosed.

To help keep the work under wraps, the Cumbria Clock Company removed signs from its building to make it harder for uninvited visitors to find. When a group of walkers once peered through a window and asked if they were looking at the famous clock, they were told that they were instead viewing one from Manchester Town Hall.

“It was very important that what we were doing was kept secret,” said the company’s director, Keith Scobie-Youngs, who was worried that it might attract thieves or vandals as well as curious tourists.

Mr. Scobie-Youngs said that the clock had been in remarkably good condition and that he had been awed by the skill of the 19th-century clockmakers.

“Nobody had ever attempted to build a clock that size to the accuracy demanded,” he said, adding, “I refer to it as being the smartphone of the 1850s.”

Mr. Scobie-Youngs also lauded Big Ben: “There is a unique sound to it,” he said. “It is that unique heartbeat.”

The bell’s bong, he said, was instantly recognizable to Britons. “When people were a long way from home, and it was on the radio, that unique sound brought people home again,” Mr. Scobie-Youngs said.

Freshly painted, finished with enough gold to cover four tennis courts, and complete with more than 7,000 replacement stones and carvings, the exterior of the Elizabeth Tower stands as a monument to what can be achieved by modern restoration, protecting it, hopefully, for the next 75 years.

Even for those who spent years on the project, the result was a pleasant surprise, said Charlotte Claughton, a senior project leader. She said that she was taken aback when the scaffolding came down and she saw the building shining, “as if it was new,” in the sunlight.

“It was hugely exciting to see it. There are a few moments that catch you off guard, and that was one of them,” Ms. Claughton said. “It was heartwarming.”

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Shortage of Artillery Ammo Saps Ukrainian Frontline Morale

DONETSK REGION, Ukraine — Nearly four months after Russia invaded, the Ukrainian military is running low on ammunition for its Soviet-era artillery and has not received enough supplies from its allies to keep the Russians at bay, Ukrainian officials and artillery officers in the field say.

The shortage has put Ukrainian troops at a growing disadvantage in the artillery-driven war of attrition in the country’s east, with Russia’s batteries now firing several times as many rounds as Ukraine’s. While the West is sending in weapons, they are not arriving fast enough or in sufficient numbers to make up for Ukraine’s dwindling arsenal.

The Western weapons, heavy, long-range artillery pieces and multiple-launch rocket systems, are more accurate and highly mobile, but it takes time to deploy them and train soldiers to use them. In the meantime, Ukraine is running out of ammunition for the older weapons.

The Guardian newspaper that Ukraine was losing the artillery battle with Russia on the front lines because of the shortage of artillery shells for its older guns. He said Ukraine was firing 5,000 to 6,000 artillery rounds a day and had “almost used up all of our ammunition.”

By contrast, Russian forces are firing about 60,000 artillery shells and rockets each day in the Donbas fighting, according to a senior adviser to the Ukrainian military command who was not authorized to speak publicly.

Michael Kofman, the director of Russia studies at CNA, a research institute in Arlington, Va., said ammunition supplies would be critical to the final outcome in the battle for eastern Ukraine.

“This war is far more about attrition by artillery than maneuver, which means one of the deciding factors is who has more ammunition,” he said.

That Ukraine was running low on ammunition has hardly been a secret. Ukrainian officials flagged the problem months ago. On the front lines, commanders watched, alarmed, as stocks dwindled mid-battle. Soldiers say requests for artillery support go unanswered, for lack of shells.

Vadym Mischuk, 32, a Ukrainian soldier who had just rotated off the frontline near the eastern city of Bakhmut, said Thursday that there is so much Russian artillery fire that “we don’t even hear ours.” One soldier, who declined to provide his name for security reasons, estimated that for every one Ukrainian shell fired, the Russians fired 10.

The Ukrainian military has been honest about the shortfalls — something an army would not typically telegraph to the enemy in a war — perhaps because doing so adds a sense of urgency to appeals for more powerful Western weaponry.

“In early March we were already well aware that during intensive war with Russia our resources were depleting,” Ukraine’s defense minister, Oleksiy Reznikov, wrote on Facebook on Thursday. He added, “Relying solely on Soviet weapons was definitely a losing strategy.”

Even before the invasion, Ukraine’s ammunition depots had been targets for saboteurs, regularly blowing up like gigantic, lethally dangerous fireworks displays.

Spies or drones dropping incendiary devices were blamed in many cases. Between 2015 and 2019, six ammunition depots blew up in Ukraine, burning about 210,000 tons of ammo, or three times more than the Ukrainian army expended in the same time span fighting Russian-backed separatists, according to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

Following Russia’s invasion, NATO countries have stepped in to bolster Ukraine’s supply of ammunition, but the transfers have not always gone smoothly. Countries of the old Warsaw Pact and NATO countries used different calibers of ammunition — an enduring legacy that means much of Ukraine’s arsenal, built decades ago to Soviet specifications, cannot fire Western ammunition.

Ukraine’s newly acquired hoard of NATO’s 155-millimeter artillery shells is now larger than its entire artillery ammunition stockpile before the war started, Mr. Reznikov said. But the Ukrainian forces have too few guns at the front to fire the munitions, and are facing extensive logistics challenges not only to get them into the fight, but also to maintain them once there.

Some European countries have shipped so many of their own ammunition reserves to Ukraine — in some cases up to 30 percent — that they’re increasingly anxious about replenishing their stocks, European Union officials said.

Officials said that while there was still a relatively steady flow of military equipment from the E.U. and its allies, Ukraine was not receiving as much heavy artillery as it needs.

With artillery shells in short supply, Ukrainian forces have adjusted their tactics to compensate for the lack of artillery support. On Friday, for example, a tank unit in Donbas was using a Ukrainian T-64BV tank more like an artillery piece than a main battle tank.

Instead of attacking targets directly, the tank drove several kilometers toward the front, positioned itself in a tree line, and lobbed shells at Russian positions while a Ukrainian officer adjusted its aim over the radio and using a drone overhead — the procedure typically used with mortars or howitzers.

“It is a fact already that the tanks are used because there is not enough artillery,” said the artillery unit commander, who asked to go by his nom de guerre, Razor. His unit of 122-millimeter, self-propelled howitzers had run out of Ukrainian ammunition and was now using Czech-supplied shells.

But ammunition can be fickle. Decades-old ammunition can become unreliable if not stored properly over time, potentially leading to more duds. Another soldier, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that a batch of Czech-supplied rockets were faulty, with only three out of 40 firing.

Ukrainian soldiers wounded in combat have also voiced dismay about the paltry artillery support, which they blamed on a lack of ammunition.

“There is not an hour with a pause” in Russian bombardments, Lt. Oleksandr Kolesnikov, who was wounded late last month, said in an interview in an ambulance while being evacuated to a hospital to the west. “The artillery is very intense.” He said his commander called in artillery in response but received only one salvo.

The Russian artillery superiority has frightened soldiers, he said. “In war, everything is scary and we fear everything. Only idiots are not afraid.”

Reporting was contributed by Oleksandr Chubko from Kramatorsk, Ukraine, Maria Varenikova from Barvinkove, Ukraine, Matina Stevis-Gridneff from Brussels and Helene Cooper and John Ismay from Washington.

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How Some States Are Combating Election Misinformation Ahead of Midterms

Ahead of the 2020 elections, Connecticut confronted a bevy of falsehoods about voting that swirled around online. One, widely viewed on Facebook, wrongly said absentee ballots had been sent to dead people. On Twitter, users spread a false post that a tractor-trailer carrying ballots had crashed on Interstate 95, sending thousands of voter slips into the air and across the highway.

Concerned about a similar deluge of unfounded rumors and lies around this year’s midterm elections, the state plans to spend nearly $2 million on marketing to share factual information about voting, and to create its first-ever position for an expert in combating misinformation. With a salary of $150,000, the person is expected to comb fringe sites like 4chan, far-right social networks like Gettr and Rumble, and mainstream social media sites to root out early misinformation narratives about voting before they go viral, and then urge the companies to remove or flag the posts that contain false information.

“We have to have situational awareness by looking into all the incoming threats to the integrity of elections,” said Scott Bates, Connecticut’s deputy secretary of the state. “Misinformation can erode people’s confidence in elections, and we view that as a critical threat to the democratic process.”

Connecticut joins a handful of states preparing to fight an onslaught of rumors and lies about this year’s elections.

ABC/Ipsos poll from January, only 20 percent of respondents said they were “very confident” in the integrity of the election system and 39 percent said they felt “somewhat confident.” Numerous Republican candidates have embraced former President Donald J. Trump’s falsehoods about the 2020 election, campaigning — often successfully — on the untrue claim that it was stolen from him.

Some conservatives and civil rights groups are almost certain to complain that the efforts to limit misinformation could restrict free speech. Florida, led by Republicans, has enacted legislation limiting the kind of social media moderation that sites like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter can do, with supporters saying the sites constrict conservative voices. (A U.S. appeals court recently blocked most aspects of the law.) On the federal level, the Department of Homeland Security recently paused the work of an advisory board on disinformation after a barrage of criticism from conservative lawmakers and free speech advocates that the group could suppress speech.

“State and local governments are well situated to reduce harms from dis- and misinformation by providing timely, accurate and trustworthy information,” said Rachel Goodman, a lawyer at Protect Democracy, a nonpartisan advocacy group. “But in order to maintain that trust, they must make clear that they are not engaging in any kind of censorship or surveillance that would raise constitutional concerns.”

Connecticut and Colorado officials said that the problem of misinformation had only worsened since 2020 and that without a more concerted push to counteract it, even more voters could lose faith in the integrity of elections. They also said they feared for the safety of some election workers.

“We are seeing a threat atmosphere unlike anything this country has seen before,” said Jena Griswold, the secretary of state of Colorado. Ms. Griswold, a Democrat who is up for re-election this fall, has received threats for upholding 2020 election results and refuting Mr. Trump’s false claims of fraudulent voting in the state.

Other secretaries of state, who head the office typically charged with overseeing elections, have received similar pushback. In Georgia, Brad Raffensperger, a Republican who certified President Biden’s win in the state, has faced fierce criticism laced with false claims about the 2020 election.

In his primary race this year, Mr. Raffensperger batted down misinformation that there were 66,000 underage voters, 2,400 unregistered voters and more than 10,350 dead people who cast ballots in the presidential election. None of the claims are true. He won his primary last week.

Colorado is redeploying a misinformation team that the state created for the 2020 election. The team is composed of three election security experts who monitor the internet for misinformation and then report it to federal law enforcement.

Ms. Griswold will oversee the team, called the Rapid Response Election Security Cyber Unit. It looks only for election-related misinformation on issues like absentee voting, polling locations and eligibility, she said.

“Facts still exist, and lies are being used to chip away at our fundamental freedoms,” Ms. Griswold said.

Connecticut officials said the state’s goal was to patrol the internet for election falsehoods. On May 7, the Connecticut Legislature approved $2 million for internet, TV, mail and radio education campaigns on the election process, and to hire an election information security officer.

Officials said they would prefer candidates fluent in both English and Spanish, to address the spread of misinformation in both languages. The officer would track down viral misinformation posts on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube, and look for emerging narratives and memes, especially on fringe social media platforms and the dark web.

“We know we can’t boil the ocean, but we have to figure out where the threat is coming from, and before it metastasizes,” Mr. Bates said.

Neil Vigdor contributed reporting.

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French prosecutor studying EU anti-fraud agency report on Le Pen, article with image

Marine Le Pen, French far-right National Rally (Rassemblement National) party candidate for the 2022 French presidential election, gestures during a campaign meeting in Avignon, France, April 14, 2022. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann

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PARIS, April 17 (Reuters) – French prosecutors said on Sunday they are examining a report by the European Union’s anti-fraud agency accusing far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen and members of her party of misappropriating thousands of euros’ worth of EU funds.

Le Pen is challenging Emmanuel Macron in a presidential election with opinion polls showing Macron edging ahead in next Sunday’s second round runoff.

The Paris prosecutor’s office confirmed that it was studying a report it received from the EU anti-fraud agency OLAF on March 11.

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Investigative website Mediapart wrote on Saturday that the OLAF report claimed Le Pen had misappropriated 140,000 euros of public money with party members in total diverting 617,000 euros. None are accused of profiting directly, but of claiming EU funds for staff and event expenses.

Le Pen’s office could not immediately be reached for comment.

“The French will not be fooled by attempts of the European Union and the European institutions (…) to interfere in the presidential campaign and harm Marine Le Pen,” National Rally president Jordan Bardella told Europe 1 radio.

He said his party had filed two legal complaints against OLAF, and that it would be filing a third in response to the report.

Speaking to BFM TV, Le Pen’s lawyer Rodolphe Bosselut said his client denied the charges. He said she had yet to be questioned and neither he nor Le Pen had seen the OLAF report.

Le Pen has been under investigation since 2017 as part of a probe into the alleged misuse of European Union funds to pay parliamentary assistants.

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Reporting by Gilles Guillaume; writing by John Irish; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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How Intel Makes Semiconductors in a Global Shortage

Some feature more than 50 billion tiny transistors that are 10,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair. They are made on gigantic, ultraclean factory room floors that can be seven stories tall and run the length of four football fields.

Microchips are in many ways the lifeblood of the modern economy. They power computers, smartphones, cars, appliances and scores of other electronics. But the world’s demand for them has surged since the pandemic, which also caused supply-chain disruptions, resulting in a global shortage.

That, in turn, is fueling inflation and raising alarms that the United States is becoming too dependent on chips made abroad. The United States accounts for only about 12 percent of global semiconductor manufacturing capacity; more than 90 percent of the most advanced chips come from Taiwan.

Intel, a Silicon Valley titan that is seeking to restore its longtime lead in chip manufacturing technology, is making a $20 billion bet that it can help ease the chip shortfall. It is building two factories at its chip-making complex in Chandler, Ariz., that will take three years to complete, and recently announced plans for a potentially bigger expansion, with new sites in New Albany, Ohio, and Magdeburg, Germany.

Why does making millions of these tiny components mean building — and spending — so big? A look inside Intel production plants in Chandler and Hillsboro, Ore., provides some answers.

Chips, or integrated circuits, began to replace bulky individual transistors in the late 1950s. Many of those tiny components are produced on a piece of silicon and connected to work together. The resulting chips store data, amplify radio signals and perform other operations; Intel is famous for a variety called microprocessors, which perform most of the calculating functions of a computer.

Intel has managed to shrink transistors on its microprocessors to mind-bending sizes. But the rival Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company can make even tinier components, a key reason Apple chose it to make the chips for its latest iPhones.

Such wins by a company based in Taiwan, an island that China claims as its own, add to signs of a growing technology gap that could put advances in computing, consumer devices and military hardware at risk from both China’s ambitions and natural threats in Taiwan such as earthquakes and drought. And it has put a spotlight on Intel’s efforts to recapture the technology lead.

Chip makers are packing more and more transistors onto each piece of silicon, which is why technology does more each year. It’s also the reason that new chip factories cost billions and fewer companies can afford to build them.

In addition to paying for buildings and machinery, companies must spend heavily to develop the complex processing steps used to fabricate chips from plate-size silicon wafers — which is why the factories are called “fabs.”

Enormous machines project designs for chips across each wafer, and then deposit and etch away layers of materials to create their transistors and connect them. Up to 25 wafers at a time move among those systems in special pods on automated overhead tracks.

Processing a wafer takes thousands of steps and up to two months. TSMC has set the pace for output in recent years, operating “gigafabs,” sites with four or more production lines. Dan Hutcheson, vice chair of the market research firm TechInsights, estimates that each site can process more than 100,000 wafers a month. He puts the capacity of Intel’s two planned $10 billion facilities in Arizona at roughly 40,000 wafers a month each.

After processing, the wafer is sliced into individual chips. These are tested and wrapped in plastic packages to connect them to circuit boards or parts of a system.

That step has become a new battleground, because it’s more difficult to make transistors even smaller. Companies are now stacking multiple chips or laying them side by side in a package, connecting them to act as a single piece of silicon.

Where packaging a handful of chips together is now routine, Intel has developed one advanced product that uses new technology to bundle a remarkable 47 individual chips, including some made by TSMC and other companies as well those produced in Intel fabs.

Intel chips typically sell for hundreds to thousands of dollars each. Intel in March released its fastest microprocessor for desktop computers, for example, at a starting price of $739. A piece of dust invisible to the human eye can ruin one. So fabs have to be cleaner than a hospital operating room and need complex systems to filter air and regulate temperature and humidity.

Fabs must also be impervious to just about any vibration, which can cause costly equipment to malfunction. So fab clean rooms are built on enormous concrete slabs on special shock absorbers.

Also critical is the ability to move vast amounts of liquids and gases. The top level of Intel’s factories, which are about 70 feet tall, have giant fans to help circulate air to the clean room directly below. Below the clean room are thousands of pumps, transformers, power cabinets, utility pipes and chillers that connect to production machines.

Fabs are water-intensive operations. That’s because water is needed to clean wafers at many stages of the production process.

Intel’s two sites in Chandler collectively draw about 11 million gallons of water a day from the local utility. Intel’s future expansion will require considerably more, a seeming challenge for a drought-plagued state like Arizona, which has cut water allocations to farmers. But farming actually consumes much more water than a chip plant.

Intel says its Chandler sites, which rely on supplies from three rivers and a system of wells, reclaim about 82 percent of the freshwater they use through filtration systems, settling ponds and other equipment. That water is sent back to the city, which operates treatment facilities that Intel funded, and which redistributes it for irrigation and other nonpotable uses.

Intel hopes to help boost the water supply in Arizona and other states by 2030, by working with environmental groups and others on projects that save and restore water for local communities.

To build its future factories, Intel will need roughly 5,000 skilled construction workers for three years.

They have a lot to do. Excavating the foundations is expected to remove 890,000 cubic yards of dirt, carted away at a rate of one dump truck per minute, said Dan Doron, Intel’s construction chief.

The company expects to pour more than 445,000 cubic yards of concrete and use 100,000 tons of reinforcement steel for the foundations — more than in constructing the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai.

Some cranes for the construction are so large that more than 100 trucks are needed to bring the pieces to assemble them, Mr. Doron said. The cranes will lift, among other things, 55-ton chillers for the new fabs.

Patrick Gelsinger, who became Intel’s chief executive a year ago, is lobbying Congress to provide grants for fab construction and tax credits for equipment investment. To manage Intel’s spending risk, he plans to emphasize construction of fab “shells” that can be outfitted with equipment to respond to market changes.

To address the chip shortage, Mr. Gelsinger will have to make good on his plan to produce chips designed by other companies. But a single company can do only so much; products like phones and cars require components from many suppliers, as well as older chips. And no country can stand alone in semiconductors, either. Though boosting domestic manufacturing can reduce supply risks somewhat, the chip industry will continue to rely on a complex global web of companies for raw materials, production equipment, design software, talent and specialized manufacturing.


Produced by Alana Celii

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Live Updates: Ukraine’s Counteroffensive Shifts Dynamic of War

KYIV, Ukraine — A month into a war that began with widespread expectations of a quick Russian rout, Ukraine’s military has begun a counteroffensive that has altered the central dynamic of the fighting: the question is no longer how far Russian forces have advanced, but whether the Ukrainians are now pushing them back.

Ukraine has blown up parked Russian helicopters in the south, and on Thursday claimed to have destroyed a naval ship in the Sea of Azov. Its forces struck a Russian resupply convoy in the Northeast.

Western and Ukrainian officials also have claimed progress in fierce fighting around the capital, Kyiv.

The asserted gains in territory are hard to quantify, or verify. In at least one crucial battle in a suburb of Kyiv, where Russian troops had made their closest approach to the capital, brutal street fighting still raged on Thursday and it was not clear that Ukraine had regained any ground.

But even this muddied picture of Ukrainian progress is helpful for the country’s messaging to its citizens, and to the world — that it is taking the fight to a foe with superior numbers and weaponry, and not just hunkering down to play defense. And it underscores the flawed planning and execution that has bedeviled Russian forces from the start, including supply shortages and demoralizing conditions for its soldiers. Those missteps have enabled Ukraine to unexpectedly go on the offensive.

Credit…Gleb Garanich/Reuters

In particular, by preventing Russian troops from capturing Irpin, a suburban town about 12 miles from the center of Kyiv, Ukraine showed that its strategy of sending small units out from the capital to engage the Russians, often in ambushes, has had success, at least for now.

Western governments have issued cautiously optimistic assessments of the counteroffensive. In an intelligence report released Wednesday, the British Ministry of Defense said the Ukrainian moves were “increasing pressure” on the Russians to the east of Kyiv, and that Ukrainian soldiers “have probably retaken Makariv” and another small town directly north of the capital.

While noting the inconclusive state of the battle, the report raised what it called a “realistic possibility” that the Ukrainian counteroffensive could succeed in encircling and cutting the supply lines of the Russian invasion force in the area, in what would be a clear tactical victory for Ukraine. At the least, it said, “the successful counter attacks by Ukraine will disrupt the ability of Russian forces to reorganize and resume their own offensive toward Kyiv.”

In the counteroffensive around Kyiv, the Ukrainian military ordered lower-level commanders to devise strategies for striking back in ways appropriate to their local areas. In many cases, this involved sending small units of infantry on reconnaissance missions to find and engage Russian forces that had fanned out into villages near Kyiv, a soldier on one such mission said over the weekend.

In the battles to the northwest of the capital, time is likely on Ukraine’s side, analysts say. Russian columns have run low on fuel and ammunition, intercepted radio transmissions suggest. Soldiers have been sleeping in vehicles for a month, in freezing weather.

Credit…Planet Labs PBC, via Associated Press

And military analysts see this axis of the Russian advance, though it came the closest to the center of Kyiv, as the most troubled by logistical failures and setbacks in combat.

Still, without knowing now which army is actually advancing in the contested towns and villages, the war here is in a state of uncertainty, said Michael Kofman, the director of Russia studies at CNA, a research institute in Arlington, Va.

More broadly, throughout the country, time is also on Ukraine’s side in at least stalling the initial Russian invasion force. But this may shift. An initial upswelling of patriotism could wane as the war’s grim reality sets in or as civilians begin to grasp Ukraine’s military losses, about which little is known.

“Our understanding of where we are now in this war is very incomplete, and we have to be honest about this,” said Mr. Kofman. “If you don’t know who controls what, you don’t know who has the momentum on the ground.”

By Thursday, the intensive fighting had set so many fires in towns around Kyiv that the city was shrouded in an eerie, white haze of smoke. But signs of actual, on the ground progress were elusive. Ukrainian forces have been unable to demonstrate they control villages or towns previously held by the Russian army.

“They are fighting day and night and everything is burning,” said Olha, 33, a saleswoman who escaped from Irpin Wednesday evening, and who was not comfortable providing her full name. She was interviewed at an aid station for displaced civilians where a continuous, cacophonous rumble of explosions could be heard from the fighting nearby.

Credit…Vadim Ghirda/Associated Press

Earlier on Wednesday, Kyiv’s mayor, Vitaly Klitschko, told a news conference that Ukrainian forces had in fact pushed back Russian troops and that “almost the whole of Irpin is in Ukrainian hands.” Other Ukrainian and Western officials have also offered more optimistic accounts than could be verified from witnesses.

The deputy police chief of Irpin, Oleksandr Bogai, said Russian soldiers were still in the town, occupying several districts and fighting Ukrainian forces. That is essentially the same situation that has persisted for nearly the entire month of the war. “There are huge explosions and a lot of smoke,” he said by telephone. “Civilians are holed up in basements. I don’t know exactly what is happening.”

In Makariv, another battleground town to the west of Kyiv that Ukrainian officials claimed to have recaptured this week, the fighting was also ongoing, Vadym Tokar, the mayor, said in a telephone interview.

“I don’t understand where this nonsense came from,” he said of reports his town had been liberated. “It is not true. We have shelling and we have Russian tanks shooting into the town right now.”

To be sure, some Western and Ukrainian official accounts have also offered more measured assessments. The head of the Kyiv regional military administration, Oleksandr Pavliuk, said Thursday that the counteroffensive had managed to “improve positions” in Irpin and Makariv, but did not assert control.

Mykhailo Podolyak, a senior adviser to President Volodymyr Zelensky, announced the counteroffensive on March 16, after it became clear the Russian armored columns had become bogged down, plagued by logistical and communications glitches and taking losses in ambushes.

Credit…Lynsey Addario for The New York Times

Russian forces have continued to make advances in eastern Ukraine, where its military claimed on Thursday to have captured Izyum, a provincial town in the Kharkiv region that had been under attack for weeks. Ukraine denied it was captured. Neither account could be independently confirmed.

In the fighting around Kyiv, civilians evacuating from the combat zone painted a picture, not so much of liberated towns but of chaotic, lethal violence.

Vladimir, 66, a retired furniture factory worker who declined to offer his last name, walked out of Irpin Thursday morning after his home burned down overnight.

“Nobody is putting out the fires,” he said. “My neighbor’s home burned and I saw sparks on my roof and then my house started to burn.”

Lacking water to fight the fire, he could only watch. “We should never surrender,” he said. “We will never live under the Russians again.”

There were also few signs the Ukrainian government had established even rudimentary civilian services in the towns it is attempting to recapture.

A woman who also offered only her first name, Elena, arrived at an aid station on the evacuation route out of Irpin in tears, saying neighbors had helped her bury her adult son in her backyard because no authorities were collecting the dead.

“I just hope his grave will not be destroyed” in the artillery shelling, she said. “The men dug a grave in the garden between the roses, and put stones around it, and a cross over it.”

Still, in one sign the counteroffensive has pushed into areas previously controlled by Russian troops, a Ukrainian unit that retrieves military dead from the battlefield has now also been finding the bodies of Russian soldiers in the towns around Kyiv, according to Serhiy Lysenko, the unit’s commander.

Credit…Felipe Dana/Associated Press

He declined to say in which towns he had been working. For now, he said in a telephone interview, they are leaving the Russian dead in place, not wanting to take additional risks to retrieve them.

Mr. Kofman, from the CNA research institute, said “It’s clear Russia cannot achieve its initial political objectives in this war now.” He said Russia must shift its goals or alter its military strategy “if it wants to sustain this war on scale beyond the coming weeks.”

Maria Varenikova contributed reporting from Kyiv, Ukraine.

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The Lies Putin Tells to Justify Russia’s War on Ukraine

In the tense weeks before Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, Russian officials denied that it planned anything of the sort, denouncing the United States and its NATO allies for stoking panic and anti-Russian hatred. When it did invade, the officials denied it was at war.

Since then, the Kremlin has cycled through a torrent of lies to explain why it had to wage a “special military operation” against a sovereign neighbor. Drug-addled neo-Nazis. Genocide. American biological weapons factories. Birds and reptiles trained to carry pathogens into Russia. Ukrainian forces bombing their own cities, including theaters sheltering children.

Disinformation in wartime is as old as war itself, but today war unfolds in the age of social media and digital diplomacy. That has given Russia — and its allies in China and elsewhere — powerful means to prop up the claim that the invasion is justified, exploiting disinformation to rally its citizens at home and to discredit its enemies abroad. Truth has simply become another front in Russia’s war.

Using a barrage of increasingly outlandish falsehoods, President Vladimir V. Putin has created an alternative reality, one in which Russia is at war not with Ukraine but with a larger, more pernicious enemy in the West. Even since the war began, the lies have gotten more and more bizarre, transforming from claims that “true sovereignty” for Ukraine was possible only under Russia, made before the attacks, to those about migratory birds carrying bioweapons.

reaching audiences that were once harder to reach.

“Previously, if you were sitting in Moscow and you wanted to reach audiences sitting in, say, Idaho, you would have to work really hard doing that,” said Elise Thomas, a researcher in Australia for the Institute of Strategic Dialogue, referring to disinformation campaigns dating to the Soviet Union. “It would take you time to set up the systems, whereas now you can do it with the press of a button.”

The power of Russia’s claim that the invasion is justified comes not from the veracity of any individual falsehood meant to support it but from the broader argument. Individual lies about bioweapons labs or crisis actors are advanced by Russia as swiftly as they are debunked, with little consistency or logic between them. But supporters stubbornly cling to the overarching belief that something is wrong in Ukraine and Russia will fix it. Those connections prove harder to shake, even as new evidence is introduced.

That mythology, and its resilience in the face of fact-checking and criticism, reflects “the ability of autocrats and malign actors to completely brainwash us to the point where we don’t see what’s in front of us,” said Laura Thornton, the director and senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund’s Alliance for Securing Democracy.

The Kremlin’s narratives today feed on pre-existing views of the war’s root causes, which Mr. Putin has nurtured for years — and restated in increasingly strident language last week.

President Volodymyr Zelensky himself, whose video messages to Ukrainians and the world have combined bravery with the stage presence of the television performer he once was.

Russia, though, has more tools and reach, and it has the upper hand with weaponry. The strategy has been to overwhelm the information space, especially at home, which “is really where their focus is,” said Peter Pomerantsev, a scholar at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Agora Institute at Johns Hopkins University who has written extensively about Russian propaganda.

Russia’s propaganda machine plays into suspicion of the West and NATO, which have been vilified on state television for years, deeply embedding distrust in Russian society. State media has also more recently echoed beliefs advanced by the QAnon movement, which ascribes the world’s problems largely to global elites and sex traffickers.

Those beliefs make people feel “scared and uncertain and alienated,” said Sophia Moskalenko, a social psychologist at Georgia State University. “As a result of manipulating their emotions, they will be more likely to embrace conspiracy theories.”

Mr. Putin’s public remarks, which dominate state media, have become increasingly strident. He has warned that nationalist sentiment in Ukraine is a threat to Russia itself, as is NATO expansion.

swiftly to silence dissenting points of view that could cut through the fog of war and discourage the Russian population.

For now, the campaign appears to have rallied public opinion behind Mr. Putin, according to most surveys in Russia, though not as high as might be expected for a country at war.

“My impression is that many people in Russia are buying the government’s narrative,” said Alexander Gabuev, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Moscow Center. “They have doctored images on state-controlled media. Private media don’t cover the war, fearing 15 years in prison. Same goes for people on the social media. Russia has lost information warfare globally, but the regime is quite successful at home.”

appeared in the information fortress the Kremlin is building.

A week after the invasion began, when it was already clear the war was going badly for Russian troops, Mr. Putin rushed to enact a law that punishes “fake news” with up to 15 years in prison. Media regulators warned broadcasters not to refer to the war as a war. They also forced off the air two flagships of independent media — Ekho Moskvy, a liberal radio station, and Dozhd, a television station — that gave voice to the Kremlin’s opponents.

Access to Facebook, Twitter, TikTok and most recently Instagram has also been severed inside Russia — all platforms the country’s diplomats have continued to use outside to misinform. Once spread, disinformation can be tenacious, even in places with a free press and open debate, like the United States, where polls suggest that more than 40 percent of the population believes the 2020 election was stolen from former President Donald J. Trump.

“Why are people so surprised that this kind of widespread disinformation can be so effective in Russia when it was so effective here?” Ms. Thornton of the German Marshall Fund said.

As the war in Ukraine drags on, however, casualties are mounting, confronting families in Russia with the loss of fathers and sons. That could test how persuasive the Kremlin’s information campaign truly is.

The Soviet Union sought to keep a similar veil of silence around its decade-long quagmire in Afghanistan in the 1980s, but the truth seeped into public consciousness anyway, eroding the foundation of the entire system. Two years after the last troops pulled out in 1989, the Soviet Union itself collapsed.

Claire Fu contributed research.

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Ukraine Live Updates: Civilians Caught in Escalating Russian Attacks

One of the paradoxical things about Vladimir V. Putin’s increasingly authoritarian rule of Russia was how relatively open society always remained.

For all the state’s control of media, people could read or watch what they wanted, including foreign newscasts like BBC and CNN. The internet was largely unfettered, a portal to the rest of the world. Unlike, say, China, you could criticize the president with some assurance that the police would not knock at the door.

Until now.

As the war in Ukraine grinds on, Mr. Putin has strangled the vestiges of a free press to justify an invasion that has been almost universally condemned — and with that moved closer to the stultifying orthodoxy of the Soviet Union. The result will be to isolate the country, as Mr. Putin has isolated himself, leaving it with a one-sided view of the world no longer subject to debate.

Two of the remaining flagships of the country’s own independent media — Ekho Moskvy, the liberal radio station, and TV Dozhd, or Rain, a digital upstart — went off the air last week, hounded by the authorities for reporting accurately on Ukraine. Access to Facebook, Twitter and TikTok, platforms pulsing with opposition to Mr. Putin’s war, have been blocked, as have other online sites in Russia.

Credit…The New York Times

Many foreign news organizations have withdrawn correspondents or stopped reporting in Russia after Mr. Putin on Friday signed into law a measure to punish anyone spreading “false information” with up to 15 years in prison.

“Just two weeks ago it was not possible to imagine how quickly most of it would get closed,” said Nina L. Khrushcheva, a professor of international affairs at the New School in New York City. “And yet it is.”

Beyond the immediate impact on Russians’ ability to learn about the war next door, Mr. Putin seems to have crossed a threshold in the country’s history. He is sequestering Russian society to a greater extent than at any time since the last Soviet leader, Mikhail S. Gorbachev, launched a policy in 1986 called glasnost, which became known as “openness” but more precisely means “the act of giving voice.”

Access to foreign news reporting and independent voices on social media have challenged the Kremlin’s monopoly on state media — as Mr. Gorbachev’s effort broke the Soviet monopoly on truth. Independent outlets have, at great risk to reporters’ personal safety, uncovered abuses during Russia’s war in Chechnya, repression of political and human rights, and the extraordinary wealth of people close to Mr. Putin — all taboo subjects in state media.

The impact of silencing them could be much broader and last much longer than the war, pushing the country from authoritarian rule to something worse.

Credit…The New York Times

“Putin is trying to turn Russia back into a totalitarian dictatorship of the pre-Gorbachev days,” said Michael McFaul, the former American ambassador to Russia who is director of the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies at Stanford University. “He will eventually fail, but he will do great damage to Russian society in trying.”

The Kremlin’s propaganda and restrictions have already disconnected ordinary Russians from the horrific violence ravaging cities across Ukraine — even those with relatives on the ground telling them otherwise. They have covered up the Russian military’s difficulties, as well as the human costs to Ukrainians that Mr. Putin claims to be defending.

Those who watch Russian television instead see the country’s troops taking part in a largely bloodless “special military operation,” to protect Ukrainian civilians from a neo-Nazi government. In this alternate reality, Russian troops are distributing aid to civilians or helping evacuate them to safety; Ukrainians are fabricating reports about Russian military setbacks — or even shelling their own cities.

The result has been to create a blinkered view of the war that few dare pierce. Not a single deputy in the State Duma, the lower house of Parliament, voted against the bill criminalizing “fake news.”

“There is less and less access to accurate information from the West amid the relentless pounding from increasingly hysterical state propaganda, which admittedly, is having its effect,” said Sergey Radchenko, a professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies Europe.

Credit… The New York Times

Mr. Putin was a lieutenant colonel in the K.G.B., serving in the former East Germany, when glasnost was introduced. He later said that he, too, recognized the need for the Soviet Union to become more open. Only up to a point, though.

From the start of his presidency in 2000, he understood that the media — especially television — had the power not only to shape his political image but also to help him govern. He moved quickly to regain control of the main television networks from two oligarchs, Vladimir A. Gusinsky and Boris A. Berezovsky, who championed agendas not always in line with the Kremlin.

But printed media faced less direct pressure, and the internet burst with new outlets, making Russian and foreign sources widely accessible. Independent media like Ekho Moskvy were mostly left alone, serving as quasi independent sources of news and debate, at least for the educated elite. The station was itself a child of glasnost, founded in 1990 by frustrated employees of state radio who wanted a platform for genuine political discussion.

Russians attributed the station’s survival to its savvy editor in chief, Aleksei A. Venediktov, and the Kremlin’s need for both a safety valve for liberal debate and a source of information separate from its own propaganda. It was there that opposition figures long barred from state television could give interviews, and anchors could debate the impact of Kremlin policies on regular people.

Credit…The New York Times

Before it closed last week, the outlet promoted voices critical of the war and of Mr. Putin himself. Russia’s prosecutor general accused it of spreading “deliberately false information.”

As in many spheres of Russian life, tolerance for contrary or unorthodox views in the media has been eroding for years. Maria Snegovaya, a visiting scholar at George Washington University and a fellow at the Center for New American Security in Washington, said there has been a “qualitative change” in Mr. Putin’s government.

She dated it to the protests that shook Mr. Putin’s ally in Belarus in 2020; the poisoning of the Kremlin’s arch critic, Aleksei A. Navalny, and his subsequent imprisonment; and the constitutional changes enacted last year allowing Mr. Putin, now 69, to extend his presidential terms to 2036.

All generated significant opposition in Russia that seeped into the public discourse, despite the Kremlin’s effort. Mr. Navalny became famous for investigations devoted to exposing corruption, including a 143-minute documentary on YouTube after his arrest that accused Mr. Putin of secretly building a palace on the Black Sea coast.

Credit…Alexander Zemlianichenko/Associated Press

“I always refrained from calling Russia totalitarian, but I think the military situation, the war, has pushed the authorities toward that,” Ms. Snegovaya said from Bulgaria where she was assisting Russians who fled the country in recent days.

A more severe step would be creating an analog to China’s Great Firewall, which restricts access to foreign websites on the outside and strictly controls what is allowed inside. Russia calls its vision for a sovereign cyberspace the RuNet, though it has so far stopped short of imposing total control.

In today’s digitally connected world, Mr. Putin could have a difficult time cutting off Russia entirely. Even in the Soviet Union, information flowed back and forth over borders. Virtual private networks, or VPNs, that allow people to evade internet restrictions by disguising which country they are logging in from, can help spread information the way samizdat, illegal copies of censored books or articles, circulated clandestinely in Soviet times.

“It will be difficult for the Russian government to block all outside information,” Jamie Fly, the chief executive of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, the U.S.-financed network founded during the Cold War, said after the announcement that it, too, was ceasing operations inside Russia. “History shows that people will go to great lengths to seek out the truth.”

Credit…The New York Times

Those who do so now will be a small minority. As Mr. Putin’s rule continues, critics fear he will take even stronger measures to maintain the Kremlin’s uncontested grip on power.

“We have a long way to go before we get to 1937,” Mr. Radchenko said, evoking the year of Stalin’s Great Terror, “but for the first time the road is clear. You can see far ahead, like on a cold, crisp winter morning, and there, in the distance, you can just about make out the outlines of the guillotines.”

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Ukraine Live Updates: Panic Grips Some Cities as Russia Tightens Cordon

Russia clamped down harder Friday on news and free speech than at any time in President Vladimir V. Putin’s 22 years in power, blocking access to Facebook and major foreign news outlets, and enacting a law to punish anyone spreading “false information” about its Ukraine invasion with up to 15 years in prison,

The crackdown comes as the Kremlin scrambles to contain discontent over the war and to control the narrative as Russia faces its most severe economic crisis in decades as a result of this week’s crushing Western sanctions. Fearing prosecution, more independent Russian news outlets shut down on Friday, and the B.B.C. said it had suspended all of its operations in Russia.

Mr. Putin signed a law that effectively criminalizes any public opposition to or independent news reporting about the war against Ukraine. Taking effect as soon as Saturday, the law could make it a crime to simply call the war a “war” — the Kremlin says it is a “special military operation” — on social media or in a news article or broadcast. Announcements that the law was coming had already pushed Russian independent media outlets to shut down in recent days, and more followed on Friday.

In addition, the government blocked access inside Russia to the websites of major Russian-language outlets that are based outside the country, and to Facebook, the social network popular with the Westward-looking urban middle class where many have posted fierce criticism of Mr. Putin’s war.

Facebook, Russia’s internet regulator claimed, had engaged in “discrimination against Russian news media” by limiting access to pro-Kremlin accounts, including that of the Defense Ministry’s television channel. The decision was a blow to internet freedom in Russia, where Western social networks have remained accessible despite Mr. Putin’s creeping authoritarianism.

For now, popular Russian social networks like VKontakte remain accessible, along with Instagram, Twitter and YouTube. But analysts expect a further crackdown, heightening the importance of the messaging and social networking app Telegram, which the Kremlin tried and failed to block in 2018.

Russian officials claim that journalists writing critically about the war — or calling it a “war” or an “invasion” — are undermining the national interest, even referring to them as traitors.

The lower house of Parliament, the State Duma, passed the law criminalizing “false information” about the armed forces on Friday by a unanimous vote, and Mr. Putin signed it later in the day. Vyacheslav Volodin, the Duma speaker, said that under the new law, “those who lied and made declarations discrediting our armed forces will be forced to suffer very harsh punishment.”

The text of the new law offered few details about what constituted an offense, but Russian journalists and Kremlin opponents take it to mean that any contradiction of the government’s statements on the invasion could be treated as a crime. Besides criminalizing the sharing of “false information” it makes “discrediting” Russia’s use of its military in Ukraine, calling on other countries to sanction Russia or protesting Russia’s invasion of Ukraine punishable by fines and years of imprisonment.

It wasn’t immediately clear whether the law would apply to people inside Russia — such as foreign correspondents — producing content in a language other than Russian. But another senior lawmaker said that citizens of any country could be prosecuted under it, and the BBC — which has a large Russian-language service in Moscow as well as an English-language bureau — said it was halting its operations inside the country.

“This legislation appears to criminalize the process of independent journalism,” Tim Davie, the director-general of the BBC, said in a statement. “It leaves us no other option than to temporarily suspend the work of all BBC News journalists and their support staff within the Russian Federation while we assess the full implications of this unwelcome development.”

Mr. Putin was silent on those developments on Friday. Instead, he held a televised videoconference with the governor of the Kaliningrad region, a Russian exclaves sandwiched between Poland and Lithuania on the Baltic Sea, in which he tried to exude a sense of normalcy amid crisis.

“We don’t see any need to exacerbate the situation or worsen our relationships,” Mr. Putin said. “All of our actions, if they occur, they occur exclusively, always, in response to ill-intended actions toward the Russian Federation.”

Mr. Putin’s comments sounded unreal with the war in Ukraine raging, but they appeared to be a message to his domestic audience to show that he was not the one escalating tensions.

The tensions were felt this week, among others, by Russia’s community of independent journalists, who found ways to publish and broadcast content harshly critical of the Kremlin despite Mr. Putin’s authoritarianism.

On Thursday, the pillars of Russia’s independent broadcast media, the Echo of Moscow radio station and the TV Rain television channel, shut down under pressure from the state.

Then, on Friday, the government said it would block access to Russian-language media produced outside the country: the websites of the Voice of America, the BBC, Deutsche Welle, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and the popular Latvian-based news outlet Meduza. The reason: the systematic distribution of what it called false information about the “special military operation on the territory of Ukraine.”

Russians will still be able to reach blocked media through the Telegram messaging app, where many news outlets have their own accounts. Some can also use virtual private networks, or VPNs, to bypass restrictions.

But independent news outlets based in Russia saw the dangers as so great that increasing numbers shut down. Znak, an independent news outlet covering Russia’s regions, shuttered its website on Friday, with a statement saying: “We are suspending our operations given the large amount of new restrictions on the functioning of the news media in Russia.”

Others tried to stay alive by telling their readers they would no longer cover the war. Russia’s last major independent newspaper, Novaya Gazeta, said it was deleting its content about the war in Ukraine. The Village, a digital lifestyle magazine that moved its operations from Russia to Poland this week, said it was retroactively editing its articles to change any mention of the word “war” to “special operation.”

Until recently, Russia’s mostly uncensored internet had provided an outlet for Russians to express dissent and to read news reports outside the Kremlin propaganda bubble that envelops much of the country’s traditional news media. But amid the war in Ukraine, which has touched off protests across the country and an outpouring of opposition from Russians online, the Kremlin appears to see the internet as a newfound threat.

Echo of Moscow, a radio station founded by Soviet dissidents in 1990 and acquired later by the state energy giant Gazprom, said on Friday that it would delete all corporate social media accounts and turn off its website as part of a “liquidation” process. By the afternoon, its popular YouTube channel was gone. More than one million people had tuned in to listen to its programs each day, according to the radio station’s longtime editor in chief, Aleksei A. Venediktov.

“Echo is my home,” said Irina Vorobyeva, a journalist who worked at the radio station for more than 15 years, in an interview on Thursday. “It’s home for a huge number of journalists, and it’s home for a huge number of our guests, who came here to talk about their opinions, to talk about things the world didn’t know.”

The situation was also a sea change for Novaya Gazeta, the 29-year-old independent newspaper that has endured the murder of six of its journalists and whose editor, Dmitri Muratov, shared the Nobel Peace Prize last year.

In an email newsletter on Friday morning, Nadezhda Prusenkova, one of the newspaper’s journalists, wrote that it was hard to see many routes for the publication to continue to exist.

“I don’t know what happens next,” she wrote.

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