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Green Or Gone

Year Of Mud, The Heavy Toll Of Brazil’s Worst Ever Ecological Disaster

Lives destroyed, entire towns damaged, widespread health problems. There is no end in sight to the toll on a region in Brazil decimated by a toxic dam break last November.

Cleaning up toxic mud in Mariana one year ago
Cleaning up toxic mud in Mariana one year ago
José Marques and Avener Prado

BARRA LONGA — The rupture of a mining dam in Mariana on Nov. 5, 2015, was only the starting point of the worst ecological disaster in the history of Brazil. And one year after 40 billion liters of toxic mud killed 19 people and spread out across 650 kilometers of territory, the mining waste that has yet to be removed by the operator Samarco could still make the situation even worse.

With the start of the raining season (which will last until March) comes the risk that the mud will again pollute the rivers, kill fish and marine fauna, provoke drinking water shortages and affect the local population, from Mariana in the state of the Minas Gerais, all the way downstream to the coast of the Espirito Santo state.

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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

The Dead And Disappeared: A Village Emerges From 72 Days Of Russian Occupation

Russian forces have been pushed out of the area around Kharkiv. Villages that were occupied for two months are free once more — but utterly destroyed. And thousands of people have disappeared without a trace.

Kharkiv and the surrounding villages faced weeks of constant Russian shelling.

Alfred Hackensberger

TSYKRUNY — Andriy Kluchikov uses a walking stick, but is otherwise fairly sprightly for a 94-year-old. Under his black wool hat, Kluchikov seems fearless as he surveys his hometown in northeastern Ukraine. “The missiles don't scare me,” he says with a smile. “I have slept in my own bed every night and never went down into the basement.”

As for the two-meter-wide bomb crater that has appeared in his garden, between the vegetable patch and the greenhouse with its shattered plastic roof, Kluchikov almost seems proud. “No one can intimidate me,” he says. “Not even the Russians.”

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In the early days of the war, in February, Russian artillery almost completely destroyed this village of Tsyrkuny, near Kharkiv, Ukraine's second largest city. Only a few houses, including his own, were left undamaged. Shortly afterwards, Russian troops marched into the village and occupied it for 72 days. It was not until early this week that the Ukrainian army was able to liberate Tsyrkuny and many other areas to the north of the country’s second-largest city, Kharkiv.

It is the Ukrainians’ most successful counter-offensive so far. They are thought to have pushed the invading troops back almost to the Russian border. “The offensive is gaining momentum,” according to the independent American thinktank Institute for the Study of War. “It has forced Russian troops on the defensive and has successfully alleviated artillery pressure on Kharkiv City.”

In the modern city of Kharkiv, home to around 1.5 million residents, the relief has been palpable over the last few days. Restaurants and cafes have reopened. People are walking and riding bikes in the parks, and couples are strolling hand in hand, enjoying the warm spring sunshine. You can still hear the artillery, but it is now many miles away.

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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.

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