Your Thursday Briefing: Ukrainians Flee the East

Good morning. We’re covering violence and sanctions in the war in Ukraine, a possible choice for Hong Kong’s next leader and the struggle for rare pharmaceutical treatments in India.

The U.S. levied additional sanctions on Russia’s largest banks.Credit…Sergey Ponomarev for The New York Times

War moves east, as sanctions grow

Ukrainians fled the contested regions of Luhansk and Donetsk, as Russia refocused to the east and military analysts warned of escalating violence. And Russian shelling against the Black Sea port of Mykolaiv is increasingly targeting civilian infrastructure and homes, local officials say.

Western pressure on Russia continues to mount. The U.S. imposed new sanctions against Russia’s largest banks, with an eye toward “maximum pain,” the U.S. treasury secretary said. Today, the U.N. General Assembly will vote on whether to suspend Russia from the human rights council. Follow live updates here.

E.U. leaders are weighing a ban on buying Russian coal and a ban on Russian vessels in European ports. Those would be the bloc’s harshest measures yet, but talks between E.U. officials suggest banning Russian oil and gas will be difficult.

Asia: The war has revived nuclear questions in South Korea, which, like Ukraine, gave up such weapons decades ago. India condemned the killing of civilians, but maintained its delicate middle-of-the-road stance.

Civilians: A Russian strike killed two older people, who had been sharing bread on a bench. The randomness of their deaths underscored ordinary Ukrainians’ suffering.

State of the war:

  • Russia has withdrawn all of its troops from around Kyiv and Chernihiv, according to a U.S. official.

  • A video appears to show Ukrainian soldiers killing captured Russian troops near Kyiv.

  • Russian forces appear to be planting a newer kind of land mine, the POM-3, which can explode at nearby movement and not just from being stepped on.

  • NATO countries are divided on how best to manage the next stage of the conflict, as grinding uncertainty looms.

Other developments:

  • More than 2,000 Ukrainians have made their way to the U.S.-Mexico border in recent days.

  • Many of Putin’s extravagances can be traced to the Russian state. That makes it difficult to track his wealth.

  • After the U.S. government blocked Moscow’s access to its dollars, Russia used rubles to pay about $650 million in dollar-denominated debt obligations, moving closer to a default.

  • A makeup artist recognized a Bucha victim by a picture of her manicured hand.

The U.S. imposed sanctions on John Lee, among other officials, for his role in cracking down on dissent.Credit…Peter Parks/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Hong Kong’s next leader?

John Lee, a hard-liner who led the crackdown on the 2019 protests, is widely expected to be Beijing’s choice as the next leader of Hong Kong, now that Carrie Lam will not seek another term as chief executive.

Their differences reflect China’s shifting priorities. Lam rose through the Hong Kong Civil Service. Lee spent his career in the security services and oversaw the police, prisons, immigration and fire departments before becoming the territory’s security secretary. He also has fewer business contacts than his predecessors.

Lee said Wednesday that he had submitted his resignation as Hong Kong’s chief secretary and that he planned to run for chief executive if Beijing accepted his notice. His appointment would show that China still has deep concerns about Hong Kong’s political stability, despite years of sweeping crackdowns.

Quotable: “Beijing’s priority is to put political regime security above financial security in Hong Kong,” an analyst said.

This toddler in Bangalore has spinal muscular atrophy, a rare disease, and needs oxygen much of the day.

Indian parents seek rare medicines

In India, which makes many of the world’s pharmaceuticals, domestic drugs are often substantially cheaper than imported ones, thanks in part to government price caps.

But therapies for many rare diseases are often imported and prohibitively expensive, forcing patients to confront an excruciating truth: India’s status as a rising pharmaceutical superpower is of no help to them.

In desperation, parents of sick children are raising funds on social media, inspired by a few success stories.

One couple seeking the gene therapy Zolgensma is struggling to raise $2.1 million, believed to be the highest price ever set for a one-time treatment. Their toddler has spinal muscular atrophy, a rare condition that is often fatal by age 2, and time is running out. “I will fight to her last breath,” her father said.

Details: Spinal muscular atrophy is an inherited neuromuscular disease that kills more infants worldwide than any other genetic disorder. The cheapest treatment costs $53,000 to $80,000 a year in India and is not covered by insurance.


World News

Idit Silman resigned because she said the coalition did not reflect the right-wing values of her party, Yamina.Credit…Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times, via Getty Images
  • Israel’s government is in crisis after Idit Silman, the de facto whip, quit the coalition government on Wednesday.

  • Amid a spike in violence, El Salvador passed an emergency decree to punish anyone who shares information about gangs. Observers say the vague measure could lead to censorship.

  • A military tribunal convicted a former president of Burkina Faso for his role in the 1987 assassination of his predecessor, President Thomas Sankara.

  • France has moved decisively to the right, even though President Emmanuel Macron, a centrist, is favored to win re-election.


Here are the latest updates and maps of the pandemic.

  • A fire and smoke at a Covid ward in Greece killed one person and injured two others.

  • The director of the C.D.C. said she “really would encourage” older Americans and those with chronic conditions to get a second booster shot.

  • A second booster shot helped protect older people from getting infected with the Omicron variant, but its protection waned quickly, an Israeli study found.

U.S. News

  • Barack Obama visited the White House for the first time since his presidency to celebrate an expansion of the Affordable Care Act.

  • Oklahoma lawmakers approved a near-total ban on abortion. Some states may block access to abortion pills, which can be sent through the mail.

  • President Biden extended a moratorium on student debt payments.

What Else Is Happening

Yakei is the first known female troop leader at the Takasakiyama Natural Zoological Garden in southern Japan.Credit…Takasakiyama Natural Zoological Garden
  • A female Japanese macaque managed to maintain her status as her troop’s alpha, despite a messy love triangle that threatened her reign.

  • Researchers believe that Machu Picchu (“old mountain”) may have actually had another name: Picchu or Huayna Picchu (“new mountain”).

  • Kanye West dropped out of the headlining spot at Coachella, a little over a week before the festival was set to begin.

A Morning Read

Quan was inspired to return to acting after the release of “Crazy Rich Asians.”Credit…Jennelle Fong for The New York Times

Ke Huy Quan, a child star in the 1980s, turned to stunt work because of the dearth of roles for Asian American actors. At 51, he spoke to The Times about his return to starring roles in “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” which blends his action and drama chops.

Russia-Ukraine War: Key Developments

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U.N. meeting. President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine addressed the United Nations Security Council, detailing the horrors he saw in Bucha, the Kyiv suburb where Russian troops have been accused of killing civilians, and laying out a powerful indictment of the U.N.’s failure to prevent the invasion.

Russian atrocities. The growing evidence that civilians in Bucha had been killed purposely and indiscriminately by Russian soldiers spurred calls by Western leaders to hold Russia accountable.

Pushing for more sanctions. E.U. leaders are weighing a ban on buying Russian coal and a ban on Russian vessels in European ports. If approved, the measures would be the harshest the bloc has enforced so far. The United States is also expected to impose broad sanctions on two Russian banks.

On the ground. Russia has nearly completed its withdrawal from around Kyiv and is preparing for intensified assaults against eastern and southern Ukraine, according to military analysts. Russian forces continued to bombard the southern city of Mariupol,


Unglamorous social media

Can a social media platform be “authentic”? On Instagram and TikTok, meticulously staged content is commonplace. BeReal, an app that’s popular among American college students, promises the opposite, Bloomberg reports.

The app, which originated in France, sends a notification every day at a different time. Users have two minutes to simultaneously snap photos on their phones’ front and back-facing phone cameras. The time limit means the images are often candid and mundane: lecture halls, unfiltered selfies, a takeout lunch. Users have to submit their photos before they can see friends’ posts.

“You’re not putting anything on display for people you only sort of know,” one student told The Daily Northwestern. “You’re really just sharing a moment of your day with the people who matter most.”


What to Cook

Credit…David Malosh for The New York Times

This pomegranate-baked rice casserole is a tangy-sweet side dish that steals the show.

What to Read

“Young Mungo” — a follow-up to Douglas Stuart’s 2020 Booker Prize-winning first novel “Shuggie Bain” — is a story of love blossoming in a barren emotional landscape.

What to Watch

“Apollo 10 ½: A Space Age Childhood,” an animated comedy, is the latest collaboration between Richard Linklater and his editor Sandra Adair.

Now Time to Play

Play today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: Like the Amur leopard and Sumatran tiger (four letters).

Here’s today’s Wordle and today’s Spelling Bee.

You can find all our puzzles here.

That’s it for today’s briefing. See you next time. — Amelia

P.S. Zachary Woolfe will become our classical music critic. Check out his latest piece: A five-minute introduction to Renaissance music.

The latest episode of “The Daily” is on the history of war crimes.

You can reach Amelia and the team at [email protected].

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