Bucha to Bakhmut, Mariupol to Maryinka: Our brutal introduction to Ukraine's “hero cities”
The world has come to know Ukraine’s geography through decisive battles and unspeakable war crimes in places like Mariupol, Bucha and now Bakhmut. We zoom in on what these places mean for the war, in both strategic and symbolic terms.
Before Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Bakhmut, an eastern city of just over 70,000, was known across the region for its sparkling wine and salt mines – and around the world, it was barely known at all.
Through cruel coincidences of fate and geography, the names of places like Bakhmut have become iconic as they appear in newspaper headlines, day after day.
Now, Bakhmut joins the annals of history alongside places like Iwo Jima, Gallipoli or Falluja that appeared on the map in pitched battles. Or like Aleppo — introduced to many around the world as the site of atrocities during the Syrian Civil War, though known to both history and food buffs for its UNESCO-recognized ancient souk and thousands of years of multicultural culinary wonders.
Over the past 15 months, the world has come to know Ukrainian geography, often in the most tragic circumstances. Just a few weeks after Russia's full-scale invasion in Feb. 2022, the Ukrainian government recognized 14 cities, including Kherson, Mariupol, Bucha and Irpin, as “Hero Cities” — a distinction dating back to World War II, when the Soviet Union recognized cities like Kyiv and Stalingrad (present-day Volgograd) for their residents’ bravery and determination in the face of the Nazi invasion.
After more than a year of full-scale war and as Ukraine's long-awaited counterattack nears, we look at some of the places that have become the site of crucial battles in the ongoing conflict, forever seared into posterity:
1. Bakhmut — Frontline Since 2014
Those who have followed the violence in Ukraine since 2014 will know that, when the war in Donbas began, a battle was already fought and won in Bakhmut (then known as Artemivsk). In May 2022, Bakhmut became a frontline city and was regularly shelled. The city came to widespread global attention in August, when Russia made it a priority, believing that taking Bakhmut would cut supply lines and grant access to the rest of Donetsk. Ground attacks were launched by Wagner Group mercenaries, and by winter Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky described Bakhmut as “burnt ruins,” with fighting having descended into trench warfare around the city.
Russia claims that at least 15,000 Ukrainians have been killed in Bakhmut so far, while the U.S. estimates as many as 100,000 Russian casualties. While these figures are uncertain, information from Ukraine has made clear that there are scores of civilian and military casualties each day, “in fighting reminiscent of the First World War.” Zelensky compared the destruction of Bakhmut to Hiroshima while in Japan for the G7 summit. [...]
— Read the full Worldcrunch article by Yannick Champion-Osselin.
• Drone attack on Moscow as new Russian airstrikes hit Ukraine: The Russian capital was hit by drone strikes early this morning, with at least two people injured and several buildings damaged. The Kremlin has blamed the attacks on Ukraine, which Ukrainian authorities have denied. Meanwhile Kyiv was also hit by air for the third time in 24 hours, with at least one person killed and 13 injured.
• NATO peacekeepers injured in clashes with ethnic Serb protesters in Kosovo: Police and NATO troops have clashed with Serb protesters in the north of the country amid unrest over the installation of ethnic Albanian mayors. Tear gas and stun grenades were used to deter protesters in Zvecan, after they tried to invade a government building, with at least 30 NATO peacekeepers injured.
• Sudan ceasefire extended amid clashes: Sudan’s fighting military factions have agreed to a five-day extension of a ceasefire agreement, following renewed clashes and air strikes in the capital. The extension was reported by Saudi Arabia and the United States, which had brokered the original week-long ceasefire deal that expired Monday night.
• Polish president backs controversial Russian influence law: Poland’s President Andrzej Duda said he would sign into law a controversial bill creating a commission to investigate Russian influence on Polish politics that could ban people from public office for a decade. The leading opposition PO party, in government from 2007 to 2015, says the law is designed to destroy support for its leader and former prime minister Donald Tusk ahead of next fall’s national elections.
• Uganda's president signs “world's harshest” anti-LGBTQ bill into law: Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has signed a widely denounced anti-homosexuality bill into law. It imposes capital punishment for some behavior including having gay sex when HIV positive, and stipulates a 20-year sentence for “promoting” homosexuality. Secretary of State Antony Blinken says the United States may consider restricting visas for some Ugandan officials following the signing of the law.
• Italian intel agents among victims in Lake Maggiore capsizing: Two Italian intelligence agents and a retired Israeli security forces member were among four victims of Sunday's boating disaster on Lake Maggiore in northern Italy. According to Italian news outlets, the boat had been carrying about 25 people who were celebrating a birthday when a storm developed over the lake.
• Ready, set, cheese: The annual cheese rolling extreme sporting event in Gloucester, UK, took a special turn this year. Delaney Irving managed to cross the finish line first to win the women’s competition, even after having been knocked unconscious. Irving, 19, said the race was “good…now that I remember it”.
"A comeback is excluded" Spanish daily ABC dedicates its front page to the internal crisis shaking the PSOE (Socialist Workers' Party), the party of Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, after the debacle at the latest local and regional elections where conservative opposition Popular Party made significant gains. As Sanchez called for a Parliament dissolution and snap elections in July, the PSOE's "barons" — presidents of autonomous communities in most cases — predict the Socialists will not regain their strength. They are blaming directly their leader for the electoral failure and accuse him of sinking down the party.
The Chinese city of Shanghai recorded a temperature of 36.1 °C in the Xuhui district, the highest temperature in the month of May in more than 100 years, surpassing the previous record of 35.7 °C reached in 1876. As a result of the rising temperatures, the city issued its first high temperature alert of the year.
Moose in our midst: How Poland's wildlife preservation worked a bit too well
Wild moose have been spotted on Polish beaches and even near cities. They're a rare example of successful conservation efforts, but they're increasingly coming into contact with people, reports Joanna Wisniowska in Warsaw-based daily Gazeta Wyborcza.
🦌 Centuries ago, moose could be found all over the European continent. But, like the European bison, they were often hunted for their value as an attractive game animal. Aside from population declines due to hunting, the drainage of European wetlands also decreased the number of viable moose habitats. In Poland specifically, moose populations were especially affected by the Second World War, and only those from the Biebrza marshes in northeast Poland managed to survive it.
📈 Luckily, moose populations have been seeing significant recoveries. “Although moose do appear on the list of game animals, it does have protected animal status year-round,” said Mateusz Ciechanowski, a biologist at the University of Gdansk, who called these species protections “a rare example of species conservation success”. Current estimates suggest the number of moose in Poland ranges from 20-30,000.
🛣️ On May 21, local media reported a collision between a car and a wild moose on the southern bypass of Gdansk, raising concerns about what this population recovery could mean for surrounding metropolitan areas. “At the same time as these successes in habitat and population recovery efforts have occurred, Poland’s road infrastructure has been developing and expanding,” Ciechanowski explains. “As more and more areas are being built up, it is not surprising that animals are ending up in these places."➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com
“You can always suspect anything. That's science. Don't rule out anything.”
— In an interview for a BBC Radio 4 podcast, head of China's Centre for Disease Control Professor George Gao said that the COVID-19 virus might have leaked from a laboratory. He added that the “question [was] still open” about the origins of the virus. In February, the hypothesis of a potential accidental laboratory leak as the origin of the virus reemerged, with the U.S.’s director of the FBI stating that it was "most likely" the case.
Venezuela's President Nicolás Maduro was received by fellow leftist Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, ahead of a summit of Latin American leaders in Brasilia. This is the first time Maduro is back in Brazil since being banned by former far-right President Jair Bolsonaro in 2019. — Photo: Frederico Brasil/TheNEWS2/ZUMA
✍️ Newsletter by Emma Albright, Laure Gautherin, Sophie Jacquier, Marine Béguin and Anne-Sophie Goninet