Eastern town becomes flash point in Ukraine
As Russia has seized control of much of the Donbas region, a small town has become a focus point where Ukraine’s leaders say the fate of the country’s Donbas region could be decided.
The town, Toshkivka, was claimed by Russian forces over the weekend — a troubling development for Ukrainian forces defending a swath of territory roughly 30 miles wide that has come to be known as the Sievierodonetsk pocket. The pocket is about three-quarters encircled by Russian forces, leaving only a small gap where Ukrainian forces can shuttle supplies and troops into their remaining population areas of the Donbas.
Ukraine’s battle to hold the Sievierodonetsk pocket centers on a strategy of drawing Russian forces into close urban combat to reduce the impact of their overwhelming firepower. If Russia severs the supply lines into Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk, it could claim complete control over the Luhansk region, which forms roughly half of the Donbas.
Elsewhere, Russia ramped up its bombings of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, weeks after Ukrainian fighters had pushed Russian forces back. Ten neighborhoods or villages around the city have been attacked in the past 24 hours, a city official said.
The collapse follows weeks of paralysis caused by the defection of two right-wing lawmakers and frequent rebellions by three others, making Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s coalition no longer the majority in Parliament. The fallout throws a political lifeline to Benjamin Netanyahu, the former prime minister who left office last June and whose Likud party is currently leading in opinion polls.
The election, which is expected to be held in the fall, comes at a tense time after a rise in Palestinian attacks on Israelis and an escalation in a shadow war between Israel and Iran.
The current coalition agreement requires that Yair Lapid, the foreign minister and a centrist former broadcaster, would take over as interim prime minister in the event that right-wing defections prompt early elections. If that agreement is honored, Lapid will lead the government for at least several months.
Related: Israel confirmed that it is part of a regional military partnership to combat threats from Iran — the latest example of Israel’s growing engagement with some Arab governments.
Low Covid deaths in the U.S.
Typically, a few weeks after a surge of Covid cases in the U.S., the number of deaths would begin to climb. But with the latest wave, that pattern appears to have changed.
Nearly three months since an ultra-contagious set of new Omicron variants launched a springtime resurgence of cases, people are nonetheless dying from Covid at a rate close to the lowest of the pandemic.
Why? Experts say it’s because so many Americans have now been vaccinated or infected or both, so the number of people whose immune systems are entirely unprepared for the virus has significantly dwindled.
Looking ahead: With the country’s resources for fighting the virus drying up and many Americans forgoing booster shots, the decoupling of cases and deaths may not last. Immunity will wane and a more evasive variant could cut into people’s residual protection against severe disease.
Another angle: As the Covid death rate worldwide has fallen, it may be tempting to conclude that the virus is becoming irreversibly milder. But the myxoma virus — fatal to millions of Australian rabbits — is a textbook example of a virus that did not get milder over time.
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Last October three African wild dogs went on an incredible journey across Africa. The three sisters — elite predators and among the most endangered mammals on Earth — braved lions, crocodiles, poachers, raging rivers and other dangers on a 1,300-mile transnational effort to forge a new dynasty. Their trip was the longest and most harrowing odyssey ever recorded for their species.
ARTS AND IDEAS
Rosé has become synonymous with fun summer drinking. But as Eric Asimov, The Times’s wine critic, says, you can open a bottle long after Labor Day. “I’m a firm believer in drinking rosé all year round,” he told us. “Being fun doesn’t equate to being low quality.”
If you think you don’t like rosé, explore different types, especially if you’ve only had the very pale rosés that are in vogue or tasted ones that seemed insipid or too sweet. “You might find that, actually, you’ve been missing something all these years that’s quite delicious,” Eric says.
Head to a serious, independently owned wine shop, and ask for help, he says. “What’s imperative is to actually talk to the people at the store, who tend to really care about what they sell and who want to make people happy.” — Natasha Frost, Briefings writer