At first glance, there isn’t much to miss about Ukraine, which occupies our headlines and for many, our hearts. Given how overwhelming information can be, what we can offer is some directions:
Choose among the news:
The Washington Post has live updates on the war: We won’t try to reproduce these here, but you can click back day by day to see them unfold. The Post also has a newsletter you can sign up for.
The AP site has multiple updates daily and is not behind a paywall.
Mother Jones is trying to support one of the last surviving independent Russian newsrooms. You can donate via their page. Meduza, the newsroom, is still broadcasting, as its servers are based in Latvia.
While you are on Mother Jones’ page, look at Peter Turnley’s extraordinary photographs, documenting people going back to–and leaving–Ukraine.
NewsGuard is tracking 140 Russian disinformation sites regarding Ukraine, and also debunks a variety of assertions about the war.
Mother Jones has a piece on leaked memos from the Kremlin which encourage Russian media to feature clips from Fox News, particularly Tucker Carlson.
Complicate the History:
For those of us in North America, the history behind Russia’s war on Ukraine may seem moot, given all that has happened. However, we have to understand something about how it evolved–or this kind of catastrophe will again be inevitable.
Keeping in mind the “the Holodomor”–the famine engineered by Stalin which killed 4 million Ukrainians in the 1930s–might illuminate the intense resistance of the Ukrainians to the Russian invasion. Vox has an explainer.
A few things that are easily missed:
The issue of Ukraine and NATO is not just an excuse for Putin to exercise his ambitions. The US has planned NATO’s expansion for decades. Declassified documents held by the The National Security Archive at George Washington University describe then-President Clinton leading Boris Yeltsin to believe that expansion was not on the agenda–when it always was.
Early on in the invasion, two thoughtful commentators–Zeeshan Aleem in MSNBC and Katrina vanden Heuvel, publisher of the Nation–pointed out that the US’s refusal to take Ukraine joining NATO out of the equation had predictable consequences. The US–and others–gambled that Putin would not invade Ukraine over the issue, Aleem points out, a gamble for which Ukrainians have paid with their lives and their country. Certainly Putin might have found another reason to invade. Certainly nothing excuses what he is doing now. But more methodical analysis was called for.
In addition, vanden Heuvel points out that Zelensky is not entirely blameless: “President Volodymyr Zelensky promised voters when he ran for Ukraine’s presidency in 2019 that he would pursue a path to peace and end the war in the Donbas. Upon taking office, however, his government refused to implement the provisions of the 2015 Minsk Protocols—signed by Russia, Ukraine, France, Germany, and the EU—that essentially would have guaranteed Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity in exchange for Ukrainian neutrality,” she writes.
While this is over-simplified, vanden Heufel’s editorial suggests that Zelensky has not always been the hero he is cast as now and that he missed a significant opportunity for stability in Ukraine. The Minsk protocols would have provided for a path to peace between Ukraine and separatist areas, two of which Putin formally recognized on the 21st. The Washington Post offers an explainer on this issue.
Say the obvious: Nuclear war
You probably haven’t missed that Ukraine president Zelensky asked for–and then stopped asking for–a no-fly zone over Ukraine. Writing for Foreign Policy in Focus, Michael Zimmerman points out that nuclear war is a too-possible outcome of a no-fly policy.
Juan Cole reminds us that ordinary citizens and power plant workers got the stakes–when they blocked the Russian military from advancing on the access road to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Ukraine.
Note the silences:
Among them are the impact of the war–and sanctions–on everyday Russians. It is difficult to find this news in the US press; no one in the mainstream has remarked recently on their likely suffering; in mid-MarchBBC had a quick piece on how the price of milk has doubled in the last two weeks, along with the prices of laptops and basic consumer goods; the pull-out of major corporations is leading to massive job losses. The BBC quoted one Russian, whom it calls Natasha, on the upheaval in everyone’s life:”This is a completely new kind of crisis which makes us all feel lost and bewildered. Not just in business but in our own lives. The loss of income, having to give up a whole way of life, reduced connections, including on social media, and not being able to travel to see family and friends who live abroad. There are a lot of things we have already lost and haven’t yet fully understood.”
End the War:
Foreign Policy in Focus has some theories of what it might take to end the war, including Ukraine agreeing to neutrality.
As of March 19, one in four Ukrainians had been displaced from their homes, according to Slate; either they are internally displaced in that their homes have become too dangerous or were reduced to rubble, or they are refugees in transit or in a neighboring country. That number is surely higher today.
This strategy of bombing and dislocating civilians is entirely purposeful on Putin’s part, according to Foreign Policy in Focus; editor John Feffer believes that Putin has been counting on the tide of refugees to divide European countries, who would then back off from supporting Ukraine. As Feffer points out, European countries have embraced Ukrainians while rejecting refugees from Afghanistan, Syria and elsewhere.
Note the disparity between the welcome of white Ukrainians and that of Ukrainians of color, as well as the wide and appropriate sympathy for Ukrainian refugees in contrast to that offered to refugees of color worldwide. As Mother Jones points out, while neighboring countries in Europe are stretching themselves thin to welcome Ukrainians, Syrians and others have been given no such welcome.
Writing for the Toronto Star, Robin Sears points out that Canada agreed to take only 40,000 Afghan refugees–and has only actually admitted 20% of that number. Certainly, he says, Canada should offer places to Ukrainians, as Trudeau says he will do. At the same time, the Canadian government has said it will not offer the settlement services to Ukrainians that it ordinarily offers to refugees–including access to health care, according to the CBC, which does not disclose why the government would be withholding these services.
And the US is refusing to admit Ukrainians without visas, even though it has given them temporary protection status. The earliest interview for a visa is in September, according to the Washington Post. That’s why Ukrainians flew into Mexico, which does not require a visa, and why some of them are dealing with being rejected at the US Southern border, under the Title 42 protocols we have commented on before. Time says, however, that many Ukrainians and Russians have been exempted from Title 42, allegedly because the US does not have the resources to send them all back!
Al Otro Lado, which has for years being doing support work for asylum-seekers on the border, says that thousands of Ukrainians and Russians are arriving there: “Right now there are families with small children, and persons who are elderly or have a disability, that are sleeping on the ground outside the US port-of-entry, and the streets of Tijuana, waiting to gain entry to the US after being turned away. Many of the asylum seekers do not speak any English or Spanish.” They are seeking volunteers–who need not speak Ukrainian or Russian; they will be guided by remote interpreters.
The absence of services and the refusal to admit Ukrainians without visas makes women and children especially vulnerable. Al Jazeera reported on the risk they face from traffickers in Romania–they appear to be offering help but are in fact intending harm. The Seattle Times reported on an initiative by former right-wing representative Matt Shea to organize the adoptions of Ukrainian children via an orphanage in Poland. But Shea refuses to provide information on how he knows the children are indeed orphans and who might adopt them, and the references he gives cannot be located by authorities. Shea’s alliances with right-wing, apocalyptic extremists are well known, the Daily Beast says.
OXFAM has a petition advocating for the human treatment of refugees, including those now being kept waiting on the US southern border.
Donate as you can:
See this page on The Cut (regularly updated–refresh often) for a summary of where things stand now and how you can help. In particular, see ways to assist Black and LGBT Ukrainians who are being turned away as they try to flee the country.
Amnesty International is trying both to document human rights abuses and to assist civilians under fire.
Doctors Without Borders describes what they are doing in Ukraine: https://www.doctorswithoutborders.org/what-we-do/countries/ukraine
The IFAW is aiding animals and people in Ukraine. The Humane Society International is also assisting people and their animals affected by the war.
The United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) describes how it is providing food and other support for displaced Ukrainians inside and outside of the country.
UNICEF is supporting children in Eastern Ukraine.
World Central Kitchen is providing meals at border crossings out of Ukraine.
Al Otro Lado’s site contains a statement on the 2nd anniversary of Title 42, identifying its devastating effects.
SCIENCE, HEALTH, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT
1. New drugs for high-risk COVID patients are approved: how to find them
Another monoclonal antibody, bebtelovimab, has been given emergency authorization for use among high-risk COVID patients, the New York Times reported on Friday; now there are four treatments that have been shown to be effective against the omicron variant, increasing supply. As we noted last month, effective FDA-approved treatments are in short supply; in another article, the Times noted that supplies of the Paxlovid pill are depleted in many locations and the GlaxoSmithKline antibody Xevudy, mostly used in hospitalized patients, is extremely hard to find. However, a federal database identifies where these treatments are available.
And Evusheld, a very promising protective treatment for immunocompromised patients–is likely to be available only to one-tenth of the number of patients who are eligible for it, as the US government ordered too few doses–a pattern of neglect, immunocompromised patients told CNN. However, immunocompromised patients report that persistence in advocating for themselves can result in the treatment they need, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. A database of Evusheld doses and whether they are already allocated can be found at this site. Rules for access to the drug varies region by region.
Bebtelovimab has been givem interim authorization by Health Canada, according to Abcellera, the Canadian company that produced it, and Health Canada has also–rather belatedly–approved Paxlovid. As of December 2021, Evusheld was still under review in Canada.
Just launched, the Biden Administration’s “Test to Treat” program may ease some of these challenges. According to CNN, designated pharmacy sites are supposed to have health care providers at hand who can prescribe antivirals; paxlovid for people 12 and older, and Merck’s molnupiravir are supposed to be available. The Times provided an update on March 25. Watch for a website to be up shortly. RLS
2. Devastating number of deaths from COVID in North American long-term care facilities
Earlier this month, the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) reported that 201,000 people living or working in long-term care facilities had died from COVID since the beginning of the pandemic. They note that this number is likely an undercount, since CDC data, on which their calculations were based, did not receive reports from all states on deaths in facilities other than nursing homes after July of 2021. In addition, the federal government only requires data from Medicare and Medicaid certified facilities, KFF notes.
In Canada, where 16,000 residents of long-term care facilities have died of COVID, according to the CBC, new standards for infection control in long-term care facilities have just been issued. (About 4,800 of these deaths were in Ontario, according to the Ontario Ministry of Long-Term Care COVID tracker.) According to Reuters, 35,231 people have died of COVID since the beginning of the pandemic–so nearly half were long-term care residents. This percentage (45%) is considerably lower than it was last March, when 69% of those dying of COVID in Canada were residents of long-term care, according to the CBC. Deaths from COVID in long-term care are falling because of vaccination campaigns among staff and residents, as well as stringent lock-down policies–though these may have contributed to the higher death rate from non-COVID causes, as residents lacked access to medical and family care. The new standards call for “single rooms with private bathrooms for long-term care residents, dedicated hand-hygiene sinks and better contingency plans for staffing shortages when “catastrophic” events occur.” Whether funding will be found to improve conditions in long-term care is yet to be seen. RLS
3. Middle-aged Black Americans also at disparate risk of COVID death
Though a great deal of justificable concern has surrounded the risks older people face from COVID-19, a researcher from U.C. Santa Cruz, Alice Riley, points out that Black people from 40-64 have continued to be at high risk. In an article published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine. she and her co-authors explain that at the beginning of the pandemic, working-class Latinos/as were at very high risk from COVID-19 because of their life circumstances–front-line jobs, multi-generational housing–but because they were targeted for vaccination, their risk level dropped. By contrast, deaths among mid-aged Black people increased from 6 to 21%.
Despite these risks, conservative groups have mounted successful campaigns against allowing doctors to use race as a criteria in calculating patients’ risk of death or severe COVID 19. As the AP explained, America First Legal, a conservative law firm, filed suit against the state of New York for using race as a factor in its criteria for treatment, and warned Utah and Minnesota for doing so as well. Minnesota now uses a lottery to determine who gets scarce treatment. RLS
4. It’s all over but the second thoughts
The “trucker” protest in Ottawa now seems increasingly absurd in the face of possible world war. Still, there is much to be unpacked. The Emergencies Act was used for the first time ever in response to the occupation of the country’s capital by truckers and others, according to the Toronto Star--permitting the trucks to be cleared and their drivers cited. What its use will mean for future protests is yet to be seen. This first use of the Emergencies Act has already been the subject of some critique. Matt Taibbi, writing in Substack, finds one aspect of the Act, freezing the bank accounts of anyone involved, quite chilling. Though the RCMP is apparently working with the finance minister to unfreeze the accounts, according to the Star, it sets a dangerous precedent.
Beginning to surface are the stories that did not make the headlines, such as this one in Spring, which describes how a small group of first 200 and then a thousand counter-protestors bloomed–and kept truckers away from the centre of Ottawa for seven hours. Others–perhaps not the dog-walkers, moms and seniors described in the Spring article–interrupted the truckers’ Zello channels with renditions of “Ram Ranch,” a raunchy gay cowboy song. #RamRanchResistance succeeded in shutting down the truckers’ communication channels, according to Rolling Stone.
Less heartening stories are also emerging. Some businesses had to close for three weeks–this after closures and losses due to the pandemic. Mask-wearing people and people of color were harrassed, even assaulted, as this story on CBC describes. Stories of what Ottawa residents endured during the protest and the dread that continues to beset them are beginning to be told, according to the Ottawa Citizen, with more surely to come. The lack of efficacy of police and politicans around the demonstration was striking, especially in contrast to the agressive actions provincial police and the RCMP have taken toward Indigenous and other social justice activists. A possible explanation is that the police were either sympathetic to the protest and/or outfoxed by strategists who knew how they worked. As the New York Times explains, “While the trucks themselves are the purported cause, symbol and tool of the protest, only a few of the self-proclaimed leaders are actually truckers. Some are, in fact, former police officers and army veterans who many believe have used their expertise to help organize the occupation.” Indeed, at least a dozen Ontario police officers donated to the protest, according to leaked documents obtained by the Toronto Star.
The degree to which the protest originated in the U.S. is not yet clear; certainly 44% of the funding came from the U.S., according to NPR, with the richest zip codes in the U.S. contributing the most, the Washington Post reports. Now a contingent of American truckers have set up camp in Maryland; Terry Bouton, associate professor of history at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, cautions against dismissing the trucker protest in the US; in an opinion piece for NBC News, he points out that the trucker convoy “has been a great success as a movement-building event for the far-right. And it should be taken seriously, despite its absurdities.” RLS