Welcome to Monday, where Ukraine braces for a new Russian offensive in the east, France’s presidential election has a je-ne-sais-quoi of déjà-vu, and the U.S. issues gender-neutral passports for the first time. Meanwhile, Die Welt’s reporter Alfred von Hackensberger visits Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s hometown, which is bracing for more Russian attacks.
[*Igbo - Nigeria]
• Russia-Ukraine updates: Vladimir Putin has appointed General Alexander Dvornikov as his new Ukraine war commander as Russia appears to be preparing a major new offensive in the eastern part of the country. Dvornikov led Russia’s operations in Syria, where he was accused of attacking civilian targets. S&P Global Ratings downgrades Russia to “selective default” after Moscow arranged to make foreign bond payments in rubles instead of dollars, while the World Bank says Ukraine’s economy will shrink by almost by half due to the war.
• Macron-Le Pen rematch after French election first round: Incumbent Emmanuel Macron finished first in the opening round of French presidential elections, with over 27%, followed by far-right candidate Marie Le Pen, who garnered 23% of the votes. The two will face off in the second and decisive round April 24, a rematch of the runoff five years ago.
• Pakistan to elect new Prime Minister after Khan loses no-confidence vote: Pakistan’s National Assembly will elect a new Prime Minister today after a no-confidence vote removed Prime Minister Imran Khan from office. The National Assembly’s former Leader of Opposition Shehbaz Sharif and former Minister of Foreign Affairs Shah Mehmood Qureshi are leading candidates to succeed Khan.
• Shanghai COVID-19 update: Shanghai reports 914 locally transmitted COVID-19 cases and 25,173 local asymptomatic infections as the lockdown continues into its third week in the Chinese city. More than 11,000 recovered COVID-19 patients have been discharged from hospital, and authorities will soon lift lockdowns on communities that test negative within 14 days after testing.
• Gender-neutral passports: Starting today, non-binary, intersex and transexual U.S. citizens will be able to select "X" on their passport application, instead of M or F, and will no longer have to provide medical certification if their gender identity doesn't correspond to their birth certificate.
• Musk will not join Twitter’s board: Twitter announced that Elon Musk, the company’s largest shareholder as of this month, will not be joining Twitter’s board of directors as previously reported. While no reason has been given for the reversal of last week’s decision, Musk had been tweeting erratically about the social media company this past weekend, polling his followers and proposing radical changes to the company.
• Spain seizes largest “zoo” of stuffed protected animals: Police in Spain seized 1,090 taxidermied animals, including hundreds of endangered or extinct species. Valued at nearly 29 million euros ($32 million), it is one of the largest hauls ever in Europe.
Libération's Monday front page expresses dismay and fear after the first round of the presidential elections' results. Like in 2017, Emmanuel Macron will face the far-right candidate Marine Le Pen for the second and final round of the elections on April 24. For the left-wing daily, “This time, it really sucks," using a word play that also hints at the risk of a Le Pen victory.
Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport has reclaimed the mantle of world’s busiest airport, registering more than 7.5 million passengers in 2021. Last year, Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport in China had broken the Atlanta airport's 22-year streak in the top slot. ATL’s total passenger count last year is up 76% from 2020, but still nearly 32% below pre-pandemic 2019 figures.
A visit to Zelensky’s hometown, as Russians may be set to attack again
The 44-year-old’s parents still live in the same apartment in Kryvyi Rih, where Russian troops attacked in the early days of the war before retreating. But with Putin's focus shifted eastward, the people who grew up with Zelensky brace for more attacks, reports Alfred von Hackensberger in German daily Die Welt.
🏢 The housing project where President Volodymyr Zelensky grew up is called Muravenik, which means "anthill." The Anthill is circular and built like a fortress. The 10-story apartment blocks in this southeastern Ukrainian city date to the Soviet era, and you can tell. Large swathes of the outer cladding are missing. The old doors, windows and makeshift extensions give the whole housing complex a run-down look. It's hard to believe that this is where the country’s president grew up. His parents still live in the same apartment in Kryvyi Rih.
🏭 “Russia would very much like to conquer Kryvyi Rih,” says Oleksandr Vilkul, head of the military administration, lighting a cigarette. He notes that the city is one of the most important industrial centers in Ukraine, representing 10% of the country’s gross domestic product. The city is known for its steel and chemical industries. The largest employer in the region is international company ArcelorMittal, which has 26,000 employees there.
🗺️ Kryvyi Rih is a city of 700,000 people. Its importance is not only economic; it also occupies a position of strategic military importance, as it lies 180 kilometers north of the Black Sea Coast. Like Odessa, Kryvyi Rih is also a gateway to Central Ukraine and the Donbas in the east of the country, a region where the Kremlin has recently announced it will focus its military efforts. “In my worst nightmares, I wouldn’t have dreamed that Russia would attack all of Ukraine,” says Vilkul, shaking his head.
➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com
It does leave one very tired and exhausted, doesn't it?
— Taking part in a virtual hospital visit, Queen Elizabeth II discussed the effects of COVID-19 with patients, the 95-year-old British monarch having herself caught the virus earlier this year.
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