Your Friday Briefing: The Destruction of Ukraine

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Good morning. We’re covering Russia’s ground advance, South Korea’s new approach to the virus and Cambodia’s crackdown on opposition leaders.

In Ukraine, workers struggled to rescue survivors from a theater in Mariupol that had been sheltering up to 1,000 civilians, including children, and was largely destroyed in an attack. It was unclear how many people survived.

Russia’s advance has slowed, and the Russian military continues to suffer heavy losses: The Pentagon estimated that in three weeks of fighting, 7,000 Russian soldiers died — greater than the number of American troops killed over 20 years in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But as Russians increasingly aim bombs and missiles at towns, the toll on civilians in Ukraine is worsening: People face the risk of death in the streets and deprivation — of food, water, heat, security — in bomb shelters. Here’s the latest.

Cease-fire talks between the two sides continued into a fourth day, with uncertain prospects. The U.N. Security Council held an emergency meeting to discuss the worsening humanitarian situation and the status of the more than three million refugees.

Details: No water, no gas, no light”: Intense fighting drove residents of Irpin, a Kyiv suburb, to evacuate.

Damage: Unable to take control of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, Russia has resorted to destroying it.

Debate: In countries friendly to Russia, some think Putin has a point.

Divided: Ukrainian and Russian tourists are stranded in a chic Egyptian hotel as one of their countries tears the other apart.

Other updates:

  • A Russian court extended the detention of the basketball star Brittney Griner to May 19.

  • The battle for the skies above Kyiv raged overnight through Thursday. The Ukrainian military claimed to have shot down 10 Russian planes and missiles, the debris of which killed at least one person.

  • Indian officials said the country’s wheat exports were increasing as global prices shot up in the invasion’s aftermath.


Cases are skyrocketing in South Korea, which once had one of the world’s most aggressive coronavirus policies. On Thursday, the country reported its highest daily infection number of the entire pandemic: 621,328 cases in a country of 50 million people.

But the country is still pushing ahead with plans to ease social distancing measures, relax border restrictions and learn to live with the virus’s risk in an effort to allow small businesses to recover and normal life to resume.

Details: Doctors worry that hospitals will be overwhelmed during the surge. Still, the vast majority of the country’s adult population is vaccinated, and about 90 percent of those age 60 and older have received a booster. Their risk of becoming seriously ill is low.

Here are the latest updates and maps of the pandemic.

In other developments:


A top court convicted 19 members of Cambodia’s main opposition party on Thursday on charges of “incitement” and “conspiracy.” They had already been found guilty last year of what the authorities said was a plot to topple the government.

Critics called the trial a “witch hunt” and the latest effort by Prime Minister Hun Sen to eliminate the last vestiges of dissenting political voices in what has become essentially a one-party state. He has also eliminated virtually all independent voices in the news media.

The Cambodia National Rescue Party, which had been the sole credible opposition, was dissolved in November 2017 by the country’s Supreme Court. For the past two decades, Hun Sen has been whittling down the democratic processes that the U.N. put in place in the early 1990s.

Details: The court handed down sentences between five and 10 years, with the longer terms imposed on seven leaders of the political opposition who had fled the country to avoid arrest.

Population: Two-thirds of Cambodians are younger than 30. They were born decades after the Khmer Rouge’s terror and the American carpet-bombing campaign in the Vietnam War. But land mines continue to disrupt lives, and corruption and inequality grow stronger.

World News

In August, a couple in New Zealand found a giant growth which they named Doug, in their garden. It looked, tasted and felt very much like a potato. But Doug wasn’t a potato at all.

The Australian magpie is one of the most clever birds on earth. It has a beautiful song of extraordinary complexity. It can recognize and remember up to 30 different human faces.

Its latest brainy feat: outwitting scientists who want to study it.

In 2019, researchers set out to study magpie social behavior. They spent around six months perfecting a harness that would unobtrusively carry miniature tracking devices and would be nearly impossible for magpies to remove from their own bodies.

They didn’t count on teamwork. In a remarkable act of cooperation, one bird snipped the clasp of another bird’s harness — helping another without any apparent tangible benefit to itself. Within 30 minutes, the first tracker was off; the birds removed all five within three days.

The magpies’ behavior was, the lead researcher said, “a special combination of helping but also problem solving, of being really social and having this cognitive ability to solve puzzles.”

“It’s probably partly why they’re so successful in our changing environment on farms and in urban areas,” she said. “They’ve managed to figure things out in a new way.”

What to Cook

Let this slow cooker Guinness beef stew bubble all day long.

What to Listen to

Rosalía, the Spanish pop singer known for her reinvention of flamenco, has smashed together new sounds from the Latin world and beyond on “Motomami,” out today.

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