The U.S. has ordered nonessential diplomatic staff to leave Ukraine’s capital Kyiv amid ongoing tensions with Russia. Over a dozen countries have now called on citizens to leave Ukraine or have transferred official personnel out of Kyiv. The Biden administration says 130,000 Russian troops are massed along Ukraine’s border, and warned again Sunday that Russia could invade at any time. Russia continues to demand a halt to NATO’s eastward expansion. Ukrainian officials, meanwhile, called for an urgent meeting with Russia to discuss the crisis. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who spoke with President Biden Sunday, repeated calls this weekend to avoid creating “panic” over the situation.
President Volodymyr Zelensky: “The best friend for enemies, that is panic in our country. And all this information that helps only for panic doesn’t help us.”
Thousands of demonstrators marched through Kyiv Saturday, with some rallygoers calling for peace while others urged Ukrainians to defend themselves against Russian aggression.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz is in Kyiv today before heading to Moscow for more talks as Germany says the crisis has reached a “critical” point. This is Chancellor Scholz speaking Sunday.
Chancellor Olaf Scholz: “And that’s why it’s necessary to be clear, to say clearly that in the case of military aggression against Ukraine that endangers its territorial integrity and sovereignty will result in hard reactions and sanctions that we have carefully prepared and that we can put into effect immediately, together with our allies in Europe and NATO.”
Vice President Kamala Harris will address the Munich Security Conference later this week to rally U.S. allies in Europe.
Canadian police have reopened the Ambassador Bridge, which connects Ontario to the U.S. city of Detroit, after a weeks-long protest by Canadian truckers came to a head over the weekend. Police arrested anti-government protesters who have been blockading the international trade route for nearly a week as part of the “Freedom Convoy,” which started as a demonstration against COVID restrictions. But protests continue in Ottawa and have now spread to other cities and countries, including France, where police fired tear gas at demonstrators in Paris Saturday. Organizers of the Canadian truckers convoy have been linked to far-right hate groups.
The Food and Drug Administration has postponed Pfizer’s request for emergency use authorization of its COVID vaccine for children aged 6 months through 4 years old. Pfizer says a clinical trial showed two low doses of its vaccine had limited efficacy at preventing disease among 2-to-4-year-olds. Pfizer is now evaluating whether a third dose produces a stronger immune response in young children.
In other medical news, a new study finds COVID-19 can substantially increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, even in fully recovered patients with mild cases. The research, published in Nature Medicine, found the risk of stroke was increased by over 50% and the risk for heart failure increased by over 70% in the year following an infection for unvaccinated people.
The World Health Organization’s director-general called for a waiver on intellectual property protections for COVID vaccines during a tour of a South African vaccine producer. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said ending the “acute phase” of the pandemic is within reach if 70% of the world’s population is inoculated by mid-year.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus: “It’s not a matter of chance; it’s a matter of choice. So if the world wants to end it, it has the means to end it. If it wants to continue to be greedy and doesn’t want to end it, then it will not end.”
In Afghanistan, authorities released four women activists over the weekend. They had been reported missing after participating in an anti-Taliban rally in January. Separately, two European journalists who had been detained while on assignment for the U.N. Refugee Agency were also released Friday.
In other news from Afghanistan, the nation’s central bank condemned President Biden’s executive order Friday, which seeks to seize, then split $7 billion in U.S.-held Afghan assets between the families of 9/11 victims and humanitarian assistance for Afghanistan. The Afghan central bank said the move is “an injustice to the people of Afghanistan.” Aid groups also blasted the news, as millions in Afghanistan face extreme poverty, hunger and displacement.
In Honduras, a group of environmental defenders from the community of Guapinol may soon be freed after the Supreme Court on Thursday threw out a case against them. Six people were convicted for protesting an open-pit iron oxide mine project in the northern Honduran region of Tocoa. They had been wrongfully placed in pretrial detention since 2019. The mine is inside a national forest reserve and has polluted local rivers sacred to the community.
In Brazil, deforestation in the Amazon rainforest last month rose to the highest level ever recorded for the month of January. New government data show Brazil’s Amazon lost 166 square miles of rainforest — an area seven times the size of Manhattan. Environmentalists say the deforestation is accelerating as far-right President Jair Bolsonaro faces an uphill battle for reelection in October.
Britaldo Silveira Soares-Filho: “Under the current government, the dismantling of Brazil’s environmental protection, environmental laws and environmental enforcement as command and control is being promoted. So this is a race. There is a race to deforest especially the Amazon.”
A federal judge has restored protections for gray wolves across much of the United States. The Trump administration had stripped the gray wolves of their Endangered Species Act protections during the final weeks of Trump’s presidency. Wildlife advocates celebrated the ruling but warned more action is needed to protect wolf populations.
In related news, Australia declared the koala an endangered species due to years of drought, bush fires, disease and habitat loss.
In Olympic news, 15-year-old Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva will be allowed to compete in the women’s single skating competition Tuesday, even though she tested positive for a banned heart medication that can increase athletic endurance. The decision will allow Russia’s Olympic Committee to keep Valieva’s gold medal in last week’s team event. However, Valieva won’t be allowed to participate in any medal ceremonies until her case is resolved. In 2019, the World Anti-Doping Agency banned the Russian Federation from the Olympic Games and other international sporting events amid revelations of widespread state-sponsored doping among athletes. Russian athletes can still compete in the Olympics, but Russia’s flag and national anthem are prohibited at the games.
In Puerto Rico, teachers are getting a temporary $1,000 monthly salary increase, and the Puerto Rican government has committed to negotiating better retirement options for educators. This comes after thousands of teachers led several protests across the island demanding better wages, benefits and working conditions. Puerto Rico’s Governor Pedro Pierluisi promised to make the raises permanent. Protest leaders say they won’t celebrate until the commitments are delivered. Puerto Rican firefighters and restaurant workers have also joined calls for salary increases and better working conditions. Restaurant waitstaff are walking out of the job today — Valentine’s Day — to join another teacher-led protest.
Here in New York City, a suspect has been arrested in the fatal stabbing of a 35-year-old woman Sunday inside her apartment. The man had followed Christina Yuna Lee from the street and into her building. Lee is the latest victim in a string of anti-Asian hate crimes in New York and around the country that have intensified since the beginning of the pandemic. Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou, who represents Lee’s district, decried the mounting violence and called Sunday’s killing a “worst nightmare scenario.” Lee was a Rutgers University graduate and worked for a digital music platform.
In Mississippi, two white men have been arrested and charged in the chase and shooting of D’Monterrio Gibson, a 24-year-old Black FedEx driver. Gibson, who was uninjured in the attack, was delivering a package on January 24 in the city of Brookhaven, when the two white men — whom he had never interacted with before — started chasing him. The pursuit lasted for about seven minutes. In a press conference Thursday, Gibson said he believes that Brandon Case and his father, Gregory Case, chased and shot at him because he is Black, and likely thought he didn’t belong in the neighborhood. His attorney has called this a “copycat crime” of the murder of Ahmaud Arbery. This is D’Monterrio Gibson speaking last week about what happened.
D’Monterrio Gibson: “A white pickup truck starts approaching me from their house. I’m thinking they’re just leaving, leaving their yard just to go somewhere. But then they get, like, extremely close to me, start blowing the horn, so I thought I was in their way. I proceeded to try to leave the yard, and the dude, or whoever was in the truck, tried to cut me off. I swerve around him, and I just like start hitting the gas to try to get out of there. I didn’t know what his intentions were. I drive down about two or three houses, and there’s another guy standing in the middle of the road with a gun pointed in my window. And he’s trying to — he’s mouthing the words to stop me. He’s on his hands like this with the gun: Stop. I shake my head no. I start hiding behind the steering wheel, hoping he don’t shoot inside the van. And I swerve around him, as well. When I swerve around him, he starts firing shots into my van.”
In Georgia, a jury will be selected and opening arguments are expected today in the federal hate crimes trial of the three white men who were convicted of murdering Ahmaud Arbery.
The Senate advanced a major piece of workplace legislation last Thursday that advocates say is a milestone in the #MeToo movement. Passed with bipartisan support, it bans companies from forcing workers to settle sexual harassment and assault claims in forced arbitration — a usually secretive and costly process. This is New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, one of the bill’s sponsors.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand: “The bill is going to help fix a broken system that protects perpetrators and corporations, and ends the days of silencing survivors. No longer will survivors of sexual assault or harassment in the workplace come forward and be told that they are legally forbidden to sue their employer because somewhere buried in their employment contracts was this forced arbitration clause. The Ending Forced Arbitration in Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment Act will void all forced arbitration provisions for sexual assault and harassment, allowing them to have their day in court.”
Connie Hogarth, a longtime advocate for peace and social justice, has died at the age of 95. In 1974, Hogarth co-founded the group WESPAC in New York’s Westchester County, where she spent decades working to end racism, stop the Vietnam War, abolish the death penalty, abolish nuclear weapons and close the Indian Point nuclear power plant. In the 1980s, she served on the board of the National Rainbow Coalition and was active in both presidential campaigns of Rev. Jesse Jackson. Hogarth was a supporter of Palestinian rights and fought to end apartheid in South Africa. She co-founded the Climate Crisis Coalition in 2004 and worked to slow the unfolding climate catastrophe.