Your Monday Briefing: Russia’s Assault on Mariupol


We’re covering Russia’s bombardment of Mariupol and China’s new strategy to combat its recent surge in coronavirus cases.

With Russia failing to seize major Ukrainian cities, appearing to lose ground around Kyiv and beset by significant losses, there is an emerging consensus in the West that the war has reached a stalemate. However, the fierce fighting in Mariupol continued on Sunday from the land, air and sea.

Russian forces bombarded the coastal city, including a drama school where 400 people were hiding, and forcibly deported thousands of residents to Russia against their will, according to city officials and witnesses.

Satellite images of Mariupol found evidence of widespread damage across residential neighborhoods. At least 391 buildings were observed to have been damaged or destroyed in a part of the city that is dotted with schools and health facilities.

Diplomacy: Volodymyr Zelensky, Ukraine’s president, has repeatedly called for direct negotiations with Vladimir Putin, the Russian leader. But Putin does not think the time is right, according to a senior Turkish official who was on a recent call between Putin and Turkey’s president.

Since early 2020, China has taken a zero-tolerance approach to coronavirus prevention. But now, hoping to avoid further economic harm, the country’s leader, Xi Jinping, is changing his tone.

In an effort to slow the country’s largest Covid surge since its initial spike in cases more than two years ago, Xi is still ordering major lockdowns. But he is also urging officials to seek more lenient interventions, like allowing the use of at-home test kits and sending people to centralized isolated facilities instead of hospitals, even if they remain strict in comparison to most countries.

In some ways, it is a necessity. While only two deaths have been reported in the latest wave, many of the more than 32,000 cases in recent weeks have been of the highly transmissible BA.2 subvariant of Omicron. If the trend were to continue, sending every person to the hospital would quickly overwhelm the system, and lockdowns could wipe out the razor-thin profits of many factories or lead to layoffs of service workers.

In other pandemic developments:

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has trapped a critical share of the world’s food and fertilizer, sending prices soaring and foreshadowing a rise in world hunger.

Since last month, wheat prices have increased by 21 percent, barley by 33 percent and some fertilizers by 40 percent. Compounded with the pandemic and China’s worst wheat crop in decades, officials are warning that conditions could deteriorate. Earlier this month, the U.N. said that the war’s impact on the global food market could cause an additional 7.6 million to 13.1 million people to go hungry.

Over the past five years, Russia and Ukraine have accounted for nearly a third of the exports of the world’s wheat and barley, 17 percent of its corn and 75 percent of its sunflower seed oil, an important cooking oil in some parts of the world. Of particular concern is the possibility of failing to plant next year’s harvest in Ukraine.

Global impact: In February, U.S. grocery prices were already up 8.6 percent over a year prior, the largest increase in 40 years. Farmers from Brazil to Texas are cutting back on fertilizer, threatening the size of harvests, because high energy prices have caused plants to cut production.

Few things are as glorious as gliding on ice through miles of pristine forest, with birds in the trees, paw prints of wildlife imprinted in the snow and a new discovery around every bend. That’s now a reality in Ottawa, where skating trails are multiplying in and around the city. But some worry that climate change threatens the good times.

Here’s a selection of literature and nonfiction that can help you better understand Ukraine, compiled by writers and editors at The Times’s Book Review.

“Your Ad Could Go Here,” by Oksana Zabuzhko. Short stories about Ukrainians facing personal and political inflection points, written by a famed public intellectual, “veer into the surreal and supernatural,” Alexandra Alter writes.

“Words for War: New Poems from Ukraine,” edited by Oksana Maksymchuk and Max Rosochinsky. The anthology, which centers on fighting in Crimea and the Donbas region, includes work from several Ukrainian poets. “Some have fought on the front lines, while others helped family members evacuate,” Alexandra writes.

“Absolute Zero,” by Artem Chekh. A memoir from a Ukrainian novelist who fought in the Donbas starting in 2015, the book “incorporates perspectives of civilians and his fellow soldiers,” Joumana Khatib writes.

“The Gates of Europe,” by Serhii Plokhy. This comprehensive overview of Ukraine, written by the director of Harvard’s Ukrainian Research Institute, goes back centuries to explore the country’s history under different empires and its fight for independence.

For more, our colleagues put together two lists: one of mostly nonfiction on Ukraine’s history and one of contemporary fiction and memoir.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here