As Russia’s invasion of Ukraine enters its sixth week, Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed a decree to draft 134,000 new conscripts into Russia’s military. On Wednesday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky warned Russia is preparing a major offensive in the Donbas region in eastern Ukraine. This comes just days after Russia announced it was repositioning some troops from near Kyiv and Chernihiv, though attacks have continued on both cities.
Ukraine is now sending dozens of buses into the besieged city of Mariupol to evacuate residents and deliver aid. The convoy headed into the city after Russia declared a one-day ceasefire. For the past month Russian attacks have devastated the strategically located port city, where over 150,000 people have been left without food, heat, power or running water. Local officials say as many as 5,000 have died. Residents have described dire conditions in Mariupol.
Lyudmila: “We have been striving for well-being, and now we are dirt poor, standing by the fire, homeless. How long is this going to take? We have nowhere to take a shower. We are drinking water from God knows where, and who knows what kind of bacteria it has in it? You have to walk far to get good water. This is no life for a retiree.”
On Wednesday, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said Russia’s attack on civilian areas may amount to war crimes. The former Chilean president also accused Russia of using cluster munitions at least 24 times. The U.N. Human Rights Council has appointed a commission to investigate possible war crimes. On the diplomatic front, a top Ukrainian has said Zelensky and Putin could soon hold a presidential peace summit, but Russia has downplayed the claim.
The head of the World Food Programme is warning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine could trigger the largest global food crisis in 80 years. David Beasley told the U.N. Security Council Tuesday that half of the grain his agency purchases each year comes from Ukraine. He said the war has imperiled efforts to feed 125 million people around the world.
David Beasley: “So now we’re talking about a catastrophe on top of a catastrophe, because Ukraine, from the breadbasket of the world now to breadlines, we never would have dreamed anything like this would be possible. And it’s not just decimating dynamically Ukraine and the region, but it will have global context impact beyond anything we’ve seen since World War II.”
Tunisia’s political crisis deepened Wednesday as President Kais Saied rejected parliament’s moves to rein in his near-total grip on power.
President Kais Saied: “Today, at this historic moment, I announce the dissolution of parliament in order to preserve the state and preserve its institutions.”
Most Tunisian lawmakers have rejected the order. On Wednesday, they convened an online session, where a majority voted to repeal presidential decrees suspending parliament, saying the move violated the constitution. In response, Tunisia’s justice minister ordered prosecutors to charge elected officials with “conspiring against state security.”
Saudi Arabia says it is halting its war in Yemen during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. The announcement came as envoys from Gulf Arab states met for a summit on Yemen in the Saudi capital Riyadh. Yemen’s Houthi rebels are boycotting the meeting, saying it should have been held in a neutral country rather than in Saudi Arabia. The Houthis have also rejected the Saudi-led coalition’s unilateral ceasefire, citing the ongoing land and naval blockade of Yemen. The United Nations estimates the death toll from the U.S.-backed, Saudi-led war reached 377,000 by the end of last year. The war has left millions of Yemenis on the brink of starvation.
The White House says it will end a rule blocking people from seeking asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border by May 23. Under Title 42, the Biden administration has used the pandemic as a justification to deny the right to seek asylum to 1.2 million people at the U.S.-Mexico border. That follows 400,000 such expulsions under former President Trump. Democratic Congressmember Juan Vargas of California responded, “Title 42 was never about public health and safety—it was implemented to deny due process to people seeking refuge and protection.”
President Biden is calling on lawmakers to approve billions of dollars in emergency aid to battle COVID-19, after Congress eliminated pandemic funding from its final spending bill of the fiscal year.
President Joe Biden: “But if Congress fails to act, we won’t have the supply we need this fall to ensure the shots are available free, easily accessible for all Americans. Even worse, if we need a different vaccine for the future to combat a new variant, we’re not going to have enough money to purchase it. We cannot allow that to happen.”
Pandemic assistance to uninsured U.S. residents is already running out, with some 31 million people set to lose access to free COVID-19 testing, treatment and vaccines. This comes as many states are scaling back or eliminating state-run vaccination and testing sites. Other states, including Arizona, Hawaii, Ohio and Nevada, have stopped reporting daily counts of COVID-19 hospitalizations, infections and deaths.
The New York Times reports President Biden is considering a plan to release 1 million barrels of oil a day from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve for as long as 180 days in order to drive down energy prices. This comes as the Biden administration is pressing Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to pump more oil as nations look for alternatives to Russian fossil fuel.
Meanwhile, German officials say they’ve struck a deal to keep purchasing Russian natural gas with euros or dollars, after the Kremlin demanded payments in rubles. Chancellor Olaf Scholz spoke by phone with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday. The two reportedly agreed to a deal that would see Germany make payments to Gazprombank in Russia, which will then convert the Western currency to rubles. Gazprombank, which services Russia’s oil and gas sector, is not on a list of Russian banks sanctioned by the European Union.
Kentucky’s Republican-controlled Legislature has approved a bill banning abortion after just 15 weeks of pregnancy. The Kentucky bill is similar to Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban, which is under review by the Supreme Court. Democratic Governor Andy Beshear hasn’t said whether he’ll sign the legislation, though Republicans say they have enough votes to override a veto. Also on Wednesday, Arizona’s Republican Governor Doug Ducey signed a similar ban on abortions after 15 weeks.
Governor Ducey also signed legislation Wednesday that prohibits gender-affirming care for Arizona trans children, while banning trans girls from school sports teams that align with their gender identity. In a statement, the ACLU of Arizona said, “Governor Ducey’s decision to sign this harmful and discriminatory piece of legislation into law is nothing more than a political ploy to score points with extremist lawmakers and hateful groups peddling falsehoods and manufactured outrage.”
Elsewhere, Oklahoma Republican Governor Kevin Stitt signed a similar ban on trans women and girls in public schools and colleges. The Arizona and Oklahoma bills were signed one day before the International Transgender Day of Visibility — observed today, March 31. Ahead of the occasion, trans activist and organizer Raquel Willis held a Trans Youth Town Hall with trans and gender nonconforming youth.
Kairu: “It is insane how taxing that must be on someone who just wants to do something that they love, do something that is good for them and be a part of a team and have that spirit.”
Miles: “A lot of the science saying that there’s problems with trans people doing things and they’ll have unfair advantages, there’s plenty of other research out there that says otherwise, right?”
Eli: “Why aren’t we talking about the fact that I’m 5’6”, 5’7”, on a good day?”
Eli: “I’m not playing basketball.”
Eli: “I think that there are a lot of issues that people just pass over just to marginalize and target trans people.”
Israeli forces raided the Jenin refugee camp in the occupied West Bank early Thursday, killing two Palestinians and wounding at least 15 others. One of those killed was a 17-year-old boy. The raid came two days after a Palestinian man from a village near Jenin fatally shot five people near Tel Aviv. Meanwhile, thousands of Palestinians are rallying in the Gaza Strip and West Bank today marking Land Day, an annual commemoration demanding the right to return to land Palestinians were displaced from in 1948.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau met with Indigenous leaders in British Columbia Wednesday, where he pledged federal support to First Nations communities whose children were ripped from their families and sent to residential boarding schools. An estimated 150,000 Indigenous children attended such schools between the late 1800s and 1990s, funded by the Canadian government and run by the Catholic Church. Many were subjected to psychological, physical and sexual abuse at the schools, and Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission has documented at least 4,100 deaths.
Earlier this week, a delegation of Indigenous leaders traveled from Canada to the Vatican to meet with Pope Francis, seeking a formal apology from the Catholic Church. This is Cassidy Caron, president of the Métis National Council.
Cassidy Caron: “Untold numbers have now left us without ever having their truths heard and their pain acknowledged, without ever receiving the very basic humanity and healing they so rightfully deserved. That is nothing short of a travesty, both of justice and of conscience. And while the time for acknowledgment, apology and atonement is long overdue, it is never too late to do the right thing.”