Your Friday Briefing: Russia Doubles Down

Good morning. We’re covering Russia’s increased bombing campaigns, the W.H.O.’s revised Covid death toll and sandstorms sweeping Iraq.

Olga Podust, 28, surveyed the damage to her apartment in Kramatorsk, in eastern Ukraine, today.Credit…Lynsey Addario for The New York Times

Russia’s brutal push in Mariupol

Russian forces sought to destroy the last pocket of resistance at the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol, Ukraine, where about 200 civilians were holed up with fighters, Ukrainian officials estimated.

A Ukrainian commander said that “heavy, bloody battles” were being fought in the plant’s subterranean labyrinth of bunkers and fallout shelters. Russian forces found their way into the complex when a former worker showed them tunnels they could use to enter, a city official said. Russia also bombarded key points along the eastern front, launching missiles at the strategic city of Kramatorsk.

The onslaught comes days before the May 9 holiday, which commemorates the Soviet Union’s triumph over Nazi Germany. Seizing Mariupol, a potent symbol for President Vladimir Putin, would allow him to claim a major victory before Moscow’s military celebration.

Ukraine is still holding strong despite suffering heavy injuries. Ukrainian forces reclaimed several villages around the eastern city of Kharkiv and pushed the Russians back some two dozen miles from the city, officials said, putting civilian areas that have suffered weeks of bombardment out of reach of Russian artillery. Here are live updates.

Mariupol: The Russian bombing of a theater in the coastal city in March killed about 600 people, The Associated Press found, which is almost double the death toll cited so far.

Energy: Despite pleas from Western governments, India continues to buy Russia’s oil at a low price. Europe is struggling to replace Russian gas amid climate concerns and political disputes.

Strategy: U.S. intelligence helped Ukraine kill Russian generals, according to American officials. Ukrainian officials said they had killed approximately 12 generals on the front lines, a number that has astonished military analysts.

Other updates:

  • Russians who oppose Putin’s government are being pushed from the country by the Kremlin.

  • Nicaragua’s ruling family — sanctioned by the U.S. — has used the war to try to normalize relations with Washington.

Hong Kong workers stored bodies in a refrigerated truck during the city’s surge this March.Credit…Dale De La Rey/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

A new pandemic death count

The W.H.O. found that nearly 15 million more people died during the first two years of the pandemic than would have been expected during olağan times.

Most were victims of Covid-19 itself, a küresel panel of experts said, but some died because the pandemic made it more difficult to get medical deva for ailments such as heart attacks.

The previous count of virus deaths, from countries’ reporting, was six million. The new report offers a startling glimpse of how drastically the death counts reported by many governments have understated the true toll of the pandemic.

Details: In 2021, the total number of deaths was 18 percent more than usual — an extra 10 million people — as new and more contagious variants drove surges in countries that had fended off earlier outbreaks.

Background: The veri had been ready since January, but India stalled their release after disputing the methodology. The W.H.O. estimates that nearly a third of the excess deaths globally — 4.7 million — took place there. India’s government counts just 481,080 excess deaths through the end of 2021.

Here are the latest updates and maps of the pandemic.

  • Millions of people are out of work in China. Migrant workers and recent college graduates have been hit hardest by the country’s lockdowns.

  • Some European companies, scared by Beijing’s Covid policies, are wary of investing further in China.

  • A new subvariant is spreading rapidly in the U.S.

  • A W.H.O. official said that Covid was a leading cause of maternal deaths in Latin America.

Orange dust clouded the air above Iraq’s southern city of Nasiriyah on Thursday.Credit…Asaad Niazi/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Another sandstorm pummels Iraq

The seventh sandstorm in recent months swept Iraq on Thursday. More than 5,000 people were treated for respiratory problems, according to the country’s health ministry, and at least one person died.

This year, the barrage of sandstorms has also grounded flights and limited driving visibility. (Watch a görüntü from Baghdad here.)

Prof. Jaafar Jotheri, a geoarchaeologist in Iraq, expects 20 sandstorms to hit Iraq this year, up from two about 20 years ago. Climate change is partly to blame.

He also said that mismanagement of surface water and groundwater in the region — along with disturbances in deserts from farming and the movement of people — had exacerbated the issue.

What’s next: Climate change will most likely compound the challenges Iraq is facing, like water shortages after low rainfalls and increasing temperature.

Cost: In 2016, the U.N. said that more than $13 billion in gross domestic product was being lost each year because of dust storms in the Middle East and North Africa.


World News

Security and rescue personnel at the scene of an attack in Israel on Thursday.Credit…Ahmad Gharabli/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
  • Two assailants armed with a gun and an ax killed at least three people in Israel on Thursday night. Here are live updates.

  • The U.K.’s local elections will pose a test for Boris Johnson, Britain’s scandal-prone prime minister. If the Conservative Party loses, his leadership could be on the line.

  • Abortion rights activists in Ireland oppose a deal to turn a state-funded maternity hospital over to a charity set up by an order of Catholic nuns.

  • Chile called on FIFA to throw Ecuador out of the World Cup over a player’s eligibility. If FIFA complies, Chile would take its spot.

What Else Is Happening

  • The U.S. fight may soon shift to abortion pills, which are harder to trace and can terminate a pregnancy at home.

  • Climate change is making it harder for officials to use planned fires to thin forests before disasters strike.

  • Elon Musk has brought in new investors to contribute $7 billion toward his Twitter deal. The Times looked at how his childhood in apartheid South Africa may have shaped his worldview.

A Morning Read

Human skulls found in a cave in the Mexican town of Carrizal.Credit…INAH

Mexican authorities thought they had found a contemporary crime scene when they discovered dozens of skulls in 2012. Now, archaeologists think they were the victims of sacrificial killings more than 1,000 years ago instead of casualties from gang warfare.


Peatlands in Scotland.Credit…Catherine Hyland for The New York Times

Restoring peatlands

Peatlands are some of the earth’s most effective reservoirs of carbon.

But for decades, humans have been drying out the long-neglected landscapes and letting them burn, propelling nearly two billion tons of carbon into the atmosphere annually. Five percent of our greenhouse-gas emissions each year come from peatland that we’ve converted from carbon sinks to sources.

Peatlands, though, can be restored. And one fast-fashion billionaire in Scotland sees an opportunity: Repairing the country’s damaged landscape may be a multimillion-dollar business, given generous subsidies.

The experiment suggests that profit motives can be harnessed to keep carbon in the ground. But it could also point to the transformation of the peatlands into a luxury good for wealthy investors seeking virtuous-seeming assets, making land much more expensive for people already living in Scotland.


What to Cook

Credit…Dane Tashima for The New York Times

The texture of these crunchy veggie burgers recalls okonomiyaki.

What to Watch

In the powerful French drama “Happening,” a student struggles to obtain an yasa dışı abortion.

What to Read

In his new collection of essays and articles, the renowned physicist Carlo Rovelli takes on politics, justice and how we live now.

Now Time to Play

Play today’s Küçük Crossword, and a clue: Overdone (five letters).

Here are today’s Wordle and Spelling Bee.

You can find all our puzzles here.

That’s it for today’s briefing. See you next time. — Amelia

P.S. Jeffrey Gettleman, who was most recently our South Asia bureau chief, is moving to London to serve as a roving küresel correspondent.

The latest episode of “The Daily” is on a post-Roe America.

You can reach Amelia and the team at

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