Your Thursday Briefing
The heavy toll of war on Ukraine
The death, destruction and deprivation of war are mounting in Ukraine, from which an estimated two million people have fled seeking refuge. In the southern city of Mariupol, Russian commanders appear to be resorting to tactics used in Chechnya and Syria: flattening settlements with overwhelming and indiscriminate firepower.
An apparent Russian strike on a maternity hospital in Mariupol destroyed buildings and wounded patients and staff members. Across the city, hundreds of casualties have been reported. All escape routes have been blocked for days, and people are cutting down trees to build fires for heat and cooking. See maps of the invasion.
Efforts to negotiate a cease-fire to give civilians a chance to escape have failed repeatedly. For the past three days, the prospect that relief could reach the city though a “humanitarian corridor” fell apart in a hail of mortar and artillery fire.
Victims: “My whole family died in what you call a special operation and we call a war. You can do what you want with me. I have nothing left to lose.” The story of a family ripped apart by the violence.
In other news from the war:
Russia accuses the U.S. of ‘economic war’
A day after President Biden prohibited energy imports from Russia to the U.S., Dmitri Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman, accused Washington of declaring “an economic war” via its sanctions, which are enacting a viselike grip on the Russian economy and have sent the ruble tumbling to its lowest levels in history.
U.S. and European financial penalties and restrictions are throttling banks and other businesses in Russia and in Belarus, its ally, limiting the Russian government’s ability to use its enormous foreign currency reserves and impeding millions of Russians from using their credit cards, getting access to their bank deposits or traveling abroad.
Foreign assets of wealthy individuals and businesses allied with the Kremlin have been frozen, and the E.U. expanded the list of people and organizations directly affected by sanctions to nearly 1,000. Rating agencies have sharply downgraded the Russian government’s credit, signaling that it may be unable to pay creditors.
Exodus: Hundreds of Western businesses have suspended operations in Russia, potentially causing mass unemployment. Russian lawmakers are considering nationalizing the assets of foreign companies that leave in response to the war.
United Arab Emirates: Sanctions on Russian oligarchs and other allies of President Vladimir Putin may be undermined by the Gulf state, which has not condemned the invasion and which continues to welcome the Russian figures.
Austria’s U-turn on mandatory vaccinations
Austria has suspended its headline-making coronavirus vaccine mandate, which was imposed before the highly contagious Omicron variant became widespread. Karoline Edtstadler, the minister responsible for Austria’s constitutional affairs, said the law was “not proportionate” given the relatively mild symptoms experienced by most people with the variant.
The measure, which would have hit adults who refused to be inoculated with fines of up to 3,600 euros (about $4,000), took effect early last month, but enforcement was not scheduled to begin until next Tuesday. At least 74 percent of the Austrian population has received two or more doses of a vaccine.
Despite high caseloads, Austria recently dropped most of its social distancing rules in a move that echoed other European nations that were considering trying to “live with the virus.” Germany and France are also scheduled to drop most restrictions by the end of the month.
Backstop: The legal framework will be kept in place in case another, more dangerous variant becomes dominant in the future, Edtstadler said. “Just as the virus is very agile, we need to be flexible and adaptable,” she told reporters at a news conference in Vienna.
Here are the latest updates and maps of the pandemic.
In other pandemic developments:
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ARTS AND IDEAS
‘Based on a true story’
The television series “Atlanta,” which returns for its third season this month, is one of the few original series in the flood of docudramatic reimaginations of real-life events that have overtaken streaming platforms of late, Melissa Kirsch writes in The Morning, a sister newsletter to this briefing.
Last month brought “Inventing Anna,” about the faux heiress Anna Delvey, and “Pam and Tommy,” about the actress Pamela Anderson and the musician Tommy Lee. This month brings shows about the failed start-up Theranos; Renée Zellweger in “The Thing About Pam,” about a murder in Missouri; and “The Girl From Plainville,” with Elle Fanning playing a teenager who was convicted of involuntary manslaughter for encouraging her boyfriend via text message to kill himself.
Why are there so many? “Boomlets in a specific type of content often happen in Hollywood because something flavors the creative water,” said Brooks Barnes, who reports on Hollywood for The Times. This boomlet began, he says, in response to the huge success of “The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story” in 2016.
Hollywood likes stories that have already found audiences in other formats because they create awareness among potential viewers, he said, adding, “Television executives can reboot old shows, draft off of movies (the Marvel series, for instance) or look at real-life events.”