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.

Local residents walk near residential buildings which were damaged in Mariupol, Ukraine.Credit…Reuters

With war at a stalemate, Russia keeps bombing Mariupol

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.

Escape: A Times reporter, seeking to capture this moment in this war, interviewed several Ukrainian women who had fled besieged cities. Russia is hemorrhaging its young professional class.

Propaganda: Drug-addled neo-Nazis, genocide and American biological weapons factories. The Kremlin has used a barrage of falsehoods to justify its invasion of Ukraine.

Investigation: As Russian forces pushed toward Kyiv in the opening weeks of the war, they stormed an apartment complex in a nearby suburb and held residents hostage. Part of the incident was caught on camera.

A locked-down neighborhood in Shanghai on Tuesday.Credit…Qilai Shen for The New York Times

China tweaks its Covid strategy

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:

  • Some residents of Hong Kong fear that the government’s failure to get the coronavirus under control has accelerated Beijing’s authority over the territory.

  • Another Covid surge may be coming to the U.S. Scientists warn that the country isn’t doing enough to prepare.

Farmers harvesting wheat last year near the village of Tbilisskaya, Russia. Credit…Vitaly Timkiv/Associated Press

War worsens concerns of world hunger

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.


Asia and the Middle East

Taiwan’s national flag is seen from a cafe window in Dongyin, Taiwan.Credit…Ann Wang/Reuters
  • Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has amplified fears that the world is teetering back to a Cold War-like era. Here’s what that could mean for China — and Taiwan.

  • A “killing stone,” which appears in a famous Japanese legend, split in two. The question now is whether it’s a good or bad omen.

  • Zhou Guanyu will become the first Chinese Formula 1 driver.

  • China has fully militarized at least three of several islands it built in the disputed South China Sea, according to a U.S. admiral, The Associated Press reported.

  • In one of the largest gatherings in Israeli history, up to 750,000 people gathered at the funeral of Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, an ultra-Orthodox spiritual leader.

  • Bashar al-Assad, Syria’s president, traveled to the U.A.E. for his first visit to an Arab country since Syria’s civil war erupted in 2011.

Around the World

Credit…Gonzalo Fuentes/Reuters
  • As Emmanuel Macron, France’s president, addressed his country’s history of colonialism in Algeria, that legacy has pervaded the messaging of right-wing candidates.

  • Spain endorsed Morocco’s plan for limited autonomy for Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony that has been torn by a separatist conflict for five decades.

  • Ethnically motivated attacks have resurged in Sudan’s Darfur, leading to enormous displacement and a growing humanitarian crisis.

  • Pope Francis issued a new constitution to govern the Roman Catholic Church. Among the changes: Baptized lay Catholics, including women, can lead departments traditionally headed by cardinals.

  • Hillsong, the global megachurch that got its start in Australia, apologized “unreservedly” to two women who had accused its founder of inappropriate behavior.

A Morning Read

Credit…Aaron Vincent Elkaim for The New York Times

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.


Ukraine in literature

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.


What to Cook

Credit…Jenny Huang for The New York Times

The snap of salt-crusted baby potatoes pairs well with this salmon’s whiskey glaze.

What to Read

Shame can be exhilarating or terrifying — Cathy O’Neil’s “The Shame Machine” is the latest book to address the emotion.

What to Listen to

In this week’s pop playlist, our critics recommend tracks by Normani, Brad Mehldau, Valerie June and others.

Now Time to Play

Play today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: painter’s stand (five letters).

Here’s today’s Wordle.

And here is today’s Spelling Bee.

You can find all our puzzles here.

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

P.S. Stephen Merelman is joining The Times as the Metro desk’s criminal justice editor.

The latest episode of “The Daily” is about the global race for cobalt.

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

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