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Welcome to Friday, where reports say Sweden could follow Finland’s lead to join NATO, Elon Musk puts buying Twitter on hold, and we catch a first glimpse of a black hole that’s living next door. Meanwhile, French economic daily Les Echos shines a light on the dubious working and sourcing practices of Shein, the Chinese fast-fashion superstar retailer.
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• Will Sweden follow Finland’s lead on NATO membership? Unconfirmed reports in the Swedish press say Stockholm is set to submit on Monday a formal application to join NATO. All eyes are on Sweden’s decision on joining the military bloc after Finland committed to pursuing membership on Thursday, sparking threats from Russia.
• Ukraine reveals cost of war for first time: Ukraine has been forced to spend $8.3 billion on its war with Russia. Revealed in a Reuters interview with Finance Minister Serhiy Marchenko, it is the first time the Ukrainian government has disclosed the cost of the war. European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said on Friday the bloc would provide a further 500 millions euros in military assistance.
— Read all the latest at War in Ukraine, Day 79 —
• Sri Lanka gets new Prime Minister: Sri Lanka president Gotabaya Rajapaksa appointed politician Ranil Wickremesinghe as the new prime minister, after the resignation of his older brother, Mahinda Rajapaksa.
• Musk-Twitter deal on hold: Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk announced on Friday morning that his deal to buy Twitter is “temporarily on hold” until he gets more data on the number of spam and fake accounts. The billionaire intended to buy the social media platform for $44 billion.
• North Korea announces first deaths from COVID-19: North Korea announced the first COVID-19 deaths in the country, one day after authorities said they detected the first cases in the country. Six people are said to have died so far, according to the North’s Korean Central News Agency, with the virus spreading “explosively” nationwide.
• International migrant smuggling group taken apart: Austrian police says it has dismantled a massive international group — smuggling adults and children Syrian migrants. Several arrests were made and vehicles were seized across Central and Eastern European countries.
• First picture of black hole in our galaxy: The Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) unveiled the first picture of Sagittarius A*, a supermassive black hole living in our galaxy. It is four million times more massive than the Sun and is about 26 light-years away from our Earth.
Finnish daily Helsingin Sanomat’s weekly news magazine HS Viikko devotes its front page to Finland leaders’ decision to apply to join the NATO military alliance — a major policy shift triggered by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Russia warned it will be forced to take “retaliatory steps” over Finland’s decision.
According to Forbes, Argentine soccer player Lionel Messi is reported to have earned $130 million between his on-field and off-field contracts in 2022, which currently makes him the highest-paid athlete, followed by LeBron James ($121,2 million) and Cristiano Ronaldo ($115 million).
In the fast fashion race, Shein, a Chinese retailer, has rapidly risen to compete with the likes of H&M and Zara — and even Amazon. But a deep look inside the company reveals questionable working and sourcing practices. Writing for French business daily Les Echos, reporter Frédéric Schaeffer visited a workshop in Guangzhou, southern China.
👗📈 Barely known a year ago, Shein has conquered the wardrobes of young fashionistas across Europe and the United States at lightning speed. It's been enough to make "fast fashion" giants like Zara and H&M shake. Last May, Shein overtook Amazon to become the most downloaded shopping app in the United States. The brand is even leading the American fast fashion sector with over a quarter of the market, as much as H&M and Zara combined.
⏰ The lunch break is an opportunity to talk to several workers in the canteen or the eateries adjoining the workshop buildings. They all tell us about their extended working hours: “I work from 8 a.m. until noon, then from 1:30 p.m. until 5:30 p.m. and, after dinner, from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m.,” a seamstress says. The evening is free once a week. That's a total of 74 hours of work per week. Under Chinese Labor Law, weekly working hours are limited to a maximum of 44 hours, with 36 additional hours allowed per month. What about holidays at Shein? One Sunday per month.
🔍 On its U.S. website, the retailer briefly addressed modern slavery in a short statement and published a code of conduct reminding suppliers of their obligation to comply with all applicable laws, including child labor laws. But it is not uncommon in the textile industry for suppliers to subcontract part of the orders to small workshops with no direct link to the retailer, which makes controls difficult. It takes a simple visit to the residential area of Nancun, where many small workshops are located, to confirm this.
➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com
We want to return the nation to a position where our people will once again have three meals a day.
— Veteran opposition politician Ranil Wickremesinghe, who was appointed Sri Lanka’s new prime minister by president Gotabaya Rajapaksa, called for international assistance as the country faces its worst economic crisis since it became independent in 1948. Wickremesinghe’s appointment has failed to appease protesters who have been asking for the resignation of the president for weeks, leading to violent clashes that left at least nine dead.
✍️ Newsletter by Lisa Berdet, Lila Paulou, Anne-Sophie Goninet and Bertrand Hauger
Let us know what’s happening in your corner of the world!
A leading Swedish daily says the government will move toward a decision over the weekend, with the formal application coming as soon as Monday evening. This follows the announcement Thursday that neighboring Finland would seek membership in the Western military alliance, which both countries had long rejected to avoid provoking Moscow.
French President Emmanuel Macron has proposed a new European Political Community, with support from Germany's Olaf Scholz, that would include Ukraine in a second-tier union. No, this is not about European "core values" — it's just the latest attempt by the EU's two biggest players to be sure not to upset Vladimir Putin.
Barbadian singer and businesswoman Rihanna has proudly celebrated her pregnant belly in fun and revealing clothes. By doing so, she is breaking away from the unspoken rule that pregnant women should hide their baby bumps.
Central to the tragic absurdity of this war is the question of language. Vladimir Putin has repeated that protecting ethnic Russians and the Russian-speaking populations of Ukraine was a driving motivation for his invasion.
Yet one month on, a quick look at the map shows that many of the worst-hit cities are those where Russian is the predominant language: Kharkiv, Odesa, Kherson.
Then there is Mariupol, under siege and symbol of Putin’s cruelty. In the largest city on the Azov Sea, with a population of half a million people, Ukrainians make up slightly less than half of the city's population, and Mariupol's second-largest national ethnicity is Russians. As of 2001, when the last census was conducted, 89.5% of the city's population identified Russian as their mother tongue.
Between 2018 and 2019, I spent several months in Mariupol. It is a rugged but beautiful city dotted with Soviet-era architecture, featuring wide avenues and hillside parks, and an extensive industrial zone stretching along the shoreline. There was a vibrant youth culture and art scene, with students developing projects to turn their city into a regional cultural center with an international photography festival.
There were also many offices of international NGOs and human rights organizations, a consequence of the fact that Mariupol was the last major city before entering the occupied zone of Donbas. Many natives of the contested regions of Luhansk and Donetsk had moved there, taking jobs in restaurants and hospitals. I had fond memories of the welcoming from locals who were quicker to smile than in some other parts of Ukraine. All of this is gone.
Putin is bombing the very people he has claimed to want to rescue.
According to the latest data from the local authorities, 80% of the port city has been destroyed by Russian bombs, artillery fire and missile attacks, with particularly egregious targeting of civilians, including a maternity hospital, a theater where more than 1,000 people had taken shelter and a school where some 400 others were hiding.
The official civilian death toll of Mariupol is estimated at more than 3,000. There are no language or ethnic-based statistics of the victims, but it’s likely the majority were Russian speakers.
So let’s be clear, Putin is bombing the very people he has claimed to want to rescue.
Putin’s Public Enemy No. 1, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, is a mother-tongue Russian speaker who’d made a successful acting and comedy career in Russian-language broadcasting, having extensively toured Russian cities for years.
Rescuers carry a person injured during a shelling by Russian troops of Kharkiv, northeastern Ukraine.
Yes, the official language of Ukraine is Ukrainian, and a 2019 law aimed to ensure that it is used in public discourse, but no one has ever sought to abolish the Russian language in everyday life. In none of the cities that are now being bombed by the Russian army to supposedly liberate them has the Russian language been suppressed or have the Russian-speaking population been discriminated against.
Sociologist Mikhail Mishchenko explains that studies have found that the vast majority of Ukrainians don’t consider language a political issue. For reasons of history, culture and the similarities of the two languages, Ukraine is effectively a bilingual nation.
"The overwhelming majority of the population speaks both languages, Russian and Ukrainian,” Mishchenko explains. “Those who say they understand Russian poorly and have difficulty communicating in it are just over 4% percent. Approximately the same number of people say the same about Ukrainian.”
In general, there is no problem of communication and understanding. Often there will be conversations where one person speaks Ukrainian, and the other responds in Russian. Geographically, the Russian language is more dominant in the eastern and central parts of Ukraine, and Ukrainian in the west.
Like most central Ukrainians I am perfectly bilingual: for me, Ukrainian and Russian are both native languages that I have used since childhood in Kyiv. My generation grew up on Russian rock, post-Soviet cinema, and translations of foreign literature into Russian. I communicate in Russian with my sister, and with my mother and daughter in Ukrainian. I write professionally in three languages: Ukrainian, Russian and English, and can also speak Polish, French, and a bit Japanese. My mother taught me that the more languages I know the more human I am.
At the same time, I am not Russian — nor British or Polish. I am Ukrainian. Ours is a nation with a long history and culture of its own, which has always included a multi-ethnic population: Russians, Belarusians, Moldovans, Crimean Tatars, Bulgarians, Romanians, Hungarians, Poles, Jews, Greeks. We all, they all, have found our place on Ukrainian soil. We speak different languages, pray in different churches, we have different traditions, clothes, and cuisine.
My mother taught me that the more languages I know the more human I am.
Like in other countries, these differences have been the source of conflict in our past. But it is who we are and will always be, and real progress has been made over the past three decades to embrace our multitudes. Our Jewish, Russian-speaking president is the most visible proof of that — and is in fact part of what our soldiers are fighting for.
Many in Moscow were convinced that Russian troops would be welcomed in Ukraine as liberating heroes by Russian speakers. Instead, young soldiers are forced to shoot at people who scream in their native language.
Starving people ina street of Kharkiv in 1933, during the famine
Putin has tried to rally the troops by warning that in Ukraine a “genocide” of ethnic Russians is being carried out by a government that must be “de-nazified.”
These are, of course, words with specific definitions that carry the full weight of history. The Ukrainian people know what genocide is not from books. In my hometown of Kyiv, German soldiers massacred Jews en masse. My grandfather survived the Buchenwald concentration camp, liberated by the U.S. army. My great-grandmother, who died at the age of 95, survived the 1932-33 famine when the Red Army carried out the genocide of the Ukrainian middle class, and her sister disappeared in the camps of Siberia, convicted for defying rationing to try to feed her children during the famine.
On Tuesday, came a notable report of one of the latest civilian deaths in the besieged Russian-speaking city of Kharkiv: a 96-year-old had been killed when shelling hit his apartment building. The victim’s name was Boris Romanchenko; he had survived Buchenwald and two other Nazi concentration camps during World War II. As President Zelensky noted: Hitler didn’t manage to kill him, but Putin did.
Genocide has returned to Ukraine, from Kharkiv to Kherson to Mariupol, as Vladimir Putin had warned. But it is his own genocide against the Russian-speaking population of Ukraine.