Russian troops have seized their first major Ukrainian city and are laying siege to other urban areas, one week after President Vladimir Putin ordered an invasion. Russia’s military took over the strategically located southern port city of Kherson on Wednesday; meanwhile, missiles and heavy artillery fell on the cities of Mariupol, Chernihiv and Kharkiv.
On Wednesday, Russia’s military acknowledged for the first time that hundreds of Russian soldiers have died in the invasion.
Igor Konashenkov: “Four hundred ninety-eight Russian servicemen died in the line of duty. All possible assistance is being provided to the families of the deceased. One thousand five hundred ninety-seven of our comrades were wounded.”
A Ukrainian official put Russia’s toll far higher, claiming 7,000 troops have been killed, with hundreds more taken prisoner. The United Nations says 227 civilians have been killed, though that number is certain to rise.
Russian troops have tried to reach Europe’s largest nuclear power plant but were reportedly stopped by huge crowds of nonviolent Ukrainian protesters who blocked their advance. Video shows hundreds of people gathered around barricades erected on the main road leading to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power complex. Greenpeace warns more than 850 tons of highly radioactive fuel rods are stored at the facility and that a nuclear disaster could leave large swaths of Europe and Russia uninhabitable for decades.
Russian police continue to crack down on antiwar protests. More than 350 people were arrested at a rally in St. Petersburg on Wednesday. In Moscow, at least five children and two mothers were arrested and jailed Tuesday after they left flowers and signs reading “No to War” outside Ukraine’s Embassy. Human rights groups say some 8,000 people have been arrested at antiwar protests in Russia since late February.
The United Nations says more than 1 million refugees have fled Ukraine in the week since Russia launched its invasion. That’s the fastest mass migration in Europe since the Second World War and is on track to produce the largest refugee crisis of the 21st century. More than 2% of Ukraine’s population fled in just seven days.
The United Nations General Assembly voted overwhelmingly Wednesday in favor of a resolution that “deplores” Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. One hundred forty-one U.N. members, including the United States, voted in favor. Just five nations were opposed: Russia, Belarus, Eritrea, North Korea and Syria. U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres spoke to reporters after the vote.
Secretary-General António Guterres: “The message of the General Assembly is loud and clear: End hostilities in Ukraine now. Silence the guns now. Open the door to dialogue and diplomacy now. The territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine must be respected in line with the U.N. Charter.”
Thirty-five nations abstained from voting, including India, South Africa and China.
The New York Times reports top Chinese officials had advance knowledge last month of Russia’s plans to invade Ukraine and pressed President Putin to delay the assault until after the end of the Winter Olympics in Beijing. Meanwhile, the International Paralympic Committee has banned athletes from Russia and Belarus from competing when the Paralympic Winter Games get underway in Beijing on Friday.
Representatives of 175 nations have reached a historic agreement to reduce pollution from plastic. Negotiators at the United Nations Environment Assembly in Kenya agreed Wednesday to draft a new global treaty that could ban single-use plastic, while promoting the sustainable design of products and the reuse of materials. A recent U.N. study found that unless nations limit waste, the weight of plastic pollution in the world’s oceans could exceed the weight of all the world’s fish within two decades.
Here in the United States, the death toll from COVID-19 has topped 950,000, by far the highest reported death toll of any nation. The virus continues to kill 2,000 U.S. residents, on average, each day.
Meanwhile, new research finds a third dose of Pfizer’s or Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine dramatically increases protection against mild illness from the Omicron coronavirus variant. The study in The New England Journal of Medicine found that protection against symptomatic disease plummeted to just 8% in people who had two shots of Pfizer’s vaccine. A third dose provided a rapid and substantial increase in protection against both mild and severe illness from Omicron. Similar results were observed for Moderna’s vaccine.
In Texas, a judge has temporarily barred state officials from investigating the parents of a trans teenager for seeking gender-affirming care for their child. The case was part of a new, highly contested anti-trans directive issued last month. A hearing later this month could see the order being blocked altogether. Chase Strangio of the ACLU, which sued Texas on behalf of the targeted parents, said, “Attempts to cut off transgender adolescents from care will not make them any less trans but it will make them less likely to grow up at all.”
The chair of the Federal Reserve says he will recommend raising a key interest rate by a quarter of a percent when the Fed meets later this month. Jerome Powell told the House Financial Services Committee the Fed is prepared to take even more aggressive action if Russia’s invasion of Ukraine causes more turmoil in the U.S. economy, or if the inflation rate spikes even higher due to supply chain problems.
Jerome Powell: “These supply disruptions have been larger and longer-lasting than anticipated, exacerbated by waves of the virus, and price increases are now spreading to a broader range of goods and services.”
The House committee investigating the January 6 Capitol insurrection says Donald Trump and his allies acted unlawfully and “engaged in a criminal conspiracy” to overturn the 2020 election. The damning claim is part of a legal challenge against Trump lawyer John Eastman, who has refused to abide by a subpoena issued by the House panel. Separately, Trump adviser Peter Navarro was a no-show for his scheduled deposition with the committee this week.
This comes as military veteran Joshua James became the first person to plead guilty to seditious conspiracy in connection with the insurrection. As part of a plea deal, he will cooperate with federal investigators. James, who is a member of the far-right Oath Keepers, helped organize the assault and acted as private security for high-profile right-wing figures.
Meanwhile, prosecutors in the first trial of a January 6 rioter say Texas resident Guy Wesley Reffitt led the crowd that breached security and eventually the Capitol building on January 6. Reffitt is reportedly aligned with the anti-government militia the Three Percenters.
In related news, a Pennsylvania man who pleaded guilty last year to multiple charges related to the insurrection reportedly died by suicide while awaiting his trial.
In Kentucky, former Louisville police officer Brett Hankison took the stand in his own defense Wednesday. Hankison is being accused of wanton endangerment for shooting into Breonna Taylor’s neighbor’s apartment during a botched raid that led to Taylor’s killing in March 2020. Hankison said he mistook police gunfire for that of a suspect, and claimed he did nothing wrong that night.
Brett Hankison: “I knew Sergeant Mattingly was down, and I knew — I knew they were trying to get to him. And it appeared to me that they were being executed with this rifle.”
Hankison said in his testimony Breonna Taylor “didn’t need to die that night.” His comment prompted Taylor’s mother, Tamika Palmer, to walk out of the courtroom. Hankison, who fired 10 bullets during the no-knock raid, is the only officer to face charges. No one has been held accountable for Breonna Taylor’s killing.
In labor news, journalists at outlets owned by G/O Media, including Gizmodo, The Root, and Jezebel, have gone on strike after failing to agree on a new contract. This is Murjani Rawls, staff writer at The Root and one of the strikers.
Murjani Rawls: “The GMG Union and its members are not on strike because we want to be. We firmly believe that the things that we’re fighting for in this new contract would greatly improve every creator’s life that works at G/O Media. That includes better wages, better healthcare, which also is inclusionary to our trans and nonbinary-identifying friends and staff, and also better work-from-home options. It’s 2022. Inflation is still high. The pandemic has changed the way we look at work.”
Meanwhile, workers at a New York City REI store have become the first in the United States to unionize, with 86% voting in favor of joining the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. The successful vote comes after a sustained union-busting campaign from the outdoor sporting goods chain, which casts itself as a progressive employer focused on environmental sustainability.
And in more labor news, Major League Baseball is delaying the first two series of its season after failing to reach a collective bargaining agreement with the MLB Players Association. It’s the first time MLB games have been called off due to a labor action since a player strike in 1994.