The World Today for March 04, 2022

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NEED TO KNOW

Welcoming the Stranger

UKRAINE

Apartment-sharing app Airbnb is offering free temporary housing to 100,000 Ukrainian refugees who have scrambled across their neighbors’ borders in cars, buses, trains and on foot to flee Russian bombs and bullets. The Silicon Valley company and hosts were underwriting the short-term stays, the Washington Post reported in a story that featured the Airbnb logo in blue and yellow, the national colors of Ukraine.

That generosity will help only a small portion of the Ukrainians who have quit their country since Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered Russian forces to invade the country in a bid to push back Western influence and reassert Russian hegemony over the former Soviet republic, according to Vox.

More than one million people have left Ukraine since the fighting started, the UN says. Women and children, including an increasing amount of unaccompanied children, make up most of the refugees. Men between the ages of 18 and 60 must remain in the country to repel the invaders by decree.

More than half of the refugees have gone to Poland, where a sizeable immigrant Ukrainian community already lives and works. Poles, who have historically opposed Russian influence in Eastern Europe, have welcomed the refugees with open arms. The BBC, for example, toured a school in Przemyśl that was converted into a shelter. Volunteers at the shelter described how they felt a “reflex response” to help as they ladled out soup to Ukrainians sleeping on a gymnasium floor, who are shell-shocked.

“I just don’t understand what is happening and why it’s happening,” Helena Arykul, formerly a sales manager in Odessa on the Black Sea, told Politico after she arrived in Przemyśl in eastern Poland, with her 7-year-old daughter. “They started bombing the city and I had to go. My husband and father are there, fighting.”

Others have sought asylum in Hungary, Slovakia, Romania and Moldova. United Nations officials said many refugees have also gone to Russia.

Hungarian medics and station workers were similarly helping Ukrainian refugees as they disembarked from a train in the Hungarian village of Záhony. In an interview with Al Jazeera, one woman said she wanted to remain in Ukraine to fight but left after her mother convinced her that she should join the exodus to take care of her 5-year-old daughter.

The war has swept aside enmities that have existed between Romania and Ukraine since the Soviet Union annexed the region of Bessarabia after World War II and allocated it to Ukraine, creating a Romanian-speaking pocket in Western Ukraine, wrote Time. Romanians rushed to the border to help Ukrainians coming across. Many took to Facebook to offer up housing, added Radio Free Europe.

An irony often mentioned these days is that these same countries staunchly rejected accepting refugees who fled the violence in Syria, Afghanistan and Africa in the past decade, noted the New York Times. The intimation was that Eastern European countries were happy to accept other Eastern Europeans but discriminated against others based on their race, ethnicity, creed and culture.

That’s is still happening, according to human rights groups and the African Union, which say that African students in Ukraine attempting to flee are being denied entry to the EU, Al Jazeera reported.

Similar concerns, incidentally, have been raised about how the media has covered the destruction in Ukraine. The Guardian, for example, argued that Western journalists appeared to be more sympathetic to “civilized” victims in Ukraine than those in supposedly uncivilized Middle East countries and elsewhere outside Europe when the US and other Western nations were the aggressors.

Those criticisms may be valid. But they don’t change the fact, however, that for many East Europeans, now is the time to welcome the stranger.

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

Plastics Versus Earth

WORLD

The United Nations adopted a resolution this week to create the first treaty to tackle global plastic pollution, a move analysts and officials hailed as the most important multilateral climate deal since the landmark 2015 Paris accord, CNBC reported.

World leaders from nearly 200 countries said during the UN environment assembly in Kenya that they hope to create a legally-binding treaty by the end of 2024.

The tentative agreement will address the full lifecycles of plastics – including production, design and disposal – and the growing problem they pose to the world’s oceans, rivers and landscapes.

Officials described the move as “a triumph by planet earth over single-use plastics,” but cautioned that the success of any agreement would depend on the final terms of the deal.

The demand for a legally-binding pact comes as public awareness of plastic waste is growing.

The UN agency has warned that plastic pollution has increased to more than 380 million tons in 2017 – a drastic rise from 2.2 million tons in 1950. It added that plastic pollution has become a global industry worth more than $522 billion and is expected to double in capacity in the next two decades.

Single-use plastics – which include, bottles, bags and food packaging – are the most commonly discarded types of plastic and are made almost exclusively from fossil fuels.

These types of plastics often end their short lifecycle in the oceans, dumped in landfills or burned.

Last year, a study found that just 20 companies were the source of 55 percent of the world’s single-use plastic waste.

The Return of the King

SPAIN

Spanish prosecutors dropped three cases against former King Juan Carlos this week, citing insufficient evidence, the statute of limitations and the monarch’s constitutional immunity, the Guardian reported Thursday.

The 84-year-old royal had been embroiled in a number of damaging scandals concerning his business dealings that prompted him to flee the country to the United Arab Emirates in 2020.

In one of the cases, authorities probed Juan Carlos’ involvement in a deal in which a Spanish firm won a $7.4 billion contract to build a high-speed rail line in Saudi Arabia. The investigation looked into the nature of a $72 million payment that the late Saudi King Abdullah paid into a Swiss bank account that Juan Carlos had accessed in 2008.

The former king’s lawyers said that the money was a gift.

Prosecutors also said that they were shelving another case examining the connection between Juan Carlos and a tax haven in Jersey.

Officials added that they had identified “sums defrauded from the Inland Revenue relating to personal income tax between 2008 and 2012,” but said it was too late to bring charges in some counts while others were covered by the king’s immunity.

That the charges have been dropped means the former king can now return home even as he remains a divisive figure in Spain.

Initially lauded for bringing democracy back to Spain following the dictatorship of Francisco Franco, Juan Carlos abdicated following plummeting popularity and a series of scandals involving the royal family, the Associated Press noted.

Ceremonial Duties

ARMENIA

Armenian lawmakers elected former minister of high-technology industry, Vanagh Khachatrian, as the country’s new president, following the resignation of his predecessor over the lack of power in the presidency, Radio Free Europe reported Thursday.

Khachatrian won 71 votes in the second round of balloting and is supported by lawmakers from Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian’s ruling Civil Contract party.

His election comes more than a month after outgoing President Armen Sarkisian abruptly resigned amid disputes with the prime minister.

Sarkisian said that the president lacked any power or influence during times of national crisis.

Before his resignation, Sarkisian and Pashinian had clashed over a number of issues, particularly following the end of the six-week war with Azerbaijan over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh territory in 2020.

The conflict ended with a Russian-brokered peace deal but Armenian forces lost control of vast areas of the region and adjacent districts. Meanwhile, Azerbaijan was able to recapture land lost during a separatist struggle in the early 1990s.

The outgoing president complained that he was left out of the negotiations to end the war and criticized Pashinian for firing Armenia’s military leaders during anti-government protests that ignited over the peace deal.

Under the constitution, Armenia is a parliamentary republic with the prime minister serving as the head of the executive branch of government, while the president occupies a primarily ceremonial role.

UKRAINE, BRIEFLY

  • Ukraine’s nuclear inspectorate said Russian forces had captured Zaporizhzhya nuclear plant, Europe’s largest, after it caught on fire during Russian shelling, Reuters reported. The fire at the plant was brought under control but UK leader Boris Johnson, echoing worries over radiation and a nuclear accident, called for a special emergency meeting of the UN Security Council, the AP wrote.
  • The second round of talks between delegations from Ukraine and Russia ended Thursday with the two sides creating humanitarian corridors, according to Al Jazeera, and exploring limited cease-fires. The agreement comes as Russian forces encircled southern cities, with some Ukrainian officials warning the cities were running out of supplies. A senior French official said a Thursday call between Russian President Vladimir Putin and French President Emmanuel Macron left Macron convinced that “the worst is yet to come” and that Putin aims to control all of Ukraine. Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Thursday said that Russia has no intention of starting a nuclear war, adding that it is prepared to press on in its invasion of Ukraine until “the end,” the Hill reported.
  • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Thursday said that 16,000 foreigners have answered his call for volunteers to fight for Ukraine, the Washington Post reported. Russia says these fighters won’t be seen as legal combatants and granted prisoner-of-war status and instead could be prosecuted by Russia. “We are urging all foreign citizens who may have plans to go and fight for Kyiv’s nationalist regime to think a dozen times before getting on the way,” said a Russian defense ministry spokesman.
  • Former Soviet republics, Georgia and Moldova, formally applied for European Union membership, accelerating their timetable for joining the bloc because of worries over their own security due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Radio Free Europe noted.

Weekly World Quiz

DISCOVERIES

Remember Them

A new study recently proposed the idea that species can become extinct more than once.

In the biological sense, extinction occurs when the last creature of a species dies. But they can also be forgotten, according to Science Alert.

Scientists recently studied the concept of “societal extinction” in which a species completely vanishes from our collective memory and cultural knowledge.

They looked at various past studies to determine how this second extinction occurs: They analyzed different contributing factors, such as an animal’s symbolic or cultural importance, as well as how strongly it was connected to humans.

Their findings showed that societal extinction usually occurs following the biological one but sometimes, both happen at the same time. The latter phenomenon primarily occurs on how well known a specific species is.

The team suggested that living things that are not fully connected to civilization – for example, medicinal plants – lack a societal presence, which means they can be easily forgotten. With other species, however, their societal presence can break with reality after they disappear.

The researchers also noted how societal extinctions can also impact the human view of the environment and conservation efforts to protect it.

They emphasized that societies need to increase their efforts to prevent this phenomenon, as well as safeguard the memories and the records of extinct species to understand what’s been lost.

COVID-19 Global Update

Total Cases Worldwide: 442,206,583

Total Deaths Worldwide: 5,981,240

Total Vaccinations Worldwide: 10,551,631,789

Countries with the highest number of confirmed cases worldwide as of 4 a.m. ET*

  1. US: 79,196,394 (+0.07%)
  2. India: 42,951,556 (+0.01%)
  3. Brazil: 28,913,214 (+0.23%)
  4. France: 23,080,098 (+0.27%)
  5. UK: 19,211,944 (+0.68%)
  6. Russia: 16,533,932 (+1.10%)
  7. Germany: 15,531,240 (+2.35%)
  8. Turkey: 14,255,545 (+0.35%)
  9. Italy: 12,910,506 (+0.33%)
  10. Spain: 11,078,028 (+0.21%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

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