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Coronavirus

Love At First Swab, Romance At A French COVID Testing Center

She looked into his eyes, he shoved a q-tip up her nose, and they may live happily ever after.

Love At First Swab, Romance At A French COVID Testing Center

In the middle of a global pandemic and its neverending curfews, social interactions are rare and the dating game is on hold almost everywhere. But then there's France, where romance can strike where you least expect it.

Back in November 2020 in the eastern city of Belfort, Julie Bongiovanni, 21, became a COVID contact-case and had to get herself tested, reports local French newspaper L'Est RĂ©publicain.

Having been tested once before, she knew of the pain the nasal swab caused, so wasn't exactly looking forward to it. But as medical staff worker Mickaël Peter, 21, approached with the dreaded q-tip, she looked into his eyes and … l'amour.

Despite his facemask, protective glasses, hairnet and nurse's blouse, one gaze was all it took for the two of them to fall head over heels in love.

After a few nasal-passage-triggered tears, a long conversation ensued — so long, that one of Mickaël's colleagues came to check if everything was alright. Cupid's cotton swab had struck, they kept in touch via social media, agreeing to a date the week after her negative results — this time without masks. ("I hadn't even noticed he had a beard!")

Now, five months later, Julie has moved into Mickaël's place in the eastern city of Alsace. Leave it to the French, we might say, to discover the opposite of social distancing.

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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

How Vulnerable Are The Russians In Crimea?

Ukraine has stepped up attacks on the occupied Crimean peninsula, and Russia is doing all within its power to deny how vulnerable it has become.

Photograph of the Russian Black Sea Fleet headquarters with smoke rising above it after a Ukrainian missile strike.

September 22, 2023, Sevastopol, Crimea, Russia: Smoke rises over the Russian Black Sea Fleet headquarters after a Ukrainian missile strike.

TASS/ZUMA
Kyrylo Danylchenko

This article was updated Sept. 26, 2023 at 6:00 p.m.

Russian authorities are making a concerted effort to downplay and even deny the recent missile strikes in Russia-occupied Crimea.

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Media coverage in Russia of these events has been intentionally subdued, with top military spokesperson Igor Konashenkov offering no response to an attack on Russian Black Sea Fleet headquarters in the Crimean city of Sevastopol, or the alleged downing last week of Russian Su-24 aircraft by Ukrainian Air Defense.

The response from this and other strikes on the Crimean peninsula and surrounding waters of the Black Sea has alternated between complete silence and propagating falsehoods. One notable example of the latter was the claim that the Russian headquarters building of the Black Sea fleet that was hit Friday was empty and that the multiple explosions were mere routine training exercises.

Ukraine claimed on Monday that the attack killed Admiral Viktor Sokolov, the commander of Russia's Black Sea Fleet. "After the strike on the headquarters of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, 34 officers died, including the commander of the Russian Black Sea Fleet. Another 105 occupiers were wounded. The headquarters building cannot be restored," the Ukrainian special forces said via Telegram.

But Sokolov was seen on state television on Tuesday, just one day after Ukraine claimed he'd been killed. The Russian Defense Ministry released footage of the admiral partaking in a video conference with top admirals and chiefs, including Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, though there was no verification of the date of the event.

Moscow has been similarly obtuse following other reports of missiles strikes this month on Crimea. Russian authorities have declared that all missiles have been intercepted by a submarine and a structure called "VDK Minsk", which itself was severely damaged following a Ukrainian airstrike on Sept. 13. The Russians likewise dismissed reports of a fire at the headquarters of the Black Sea Fleet, attributing it to a mundane explosion caused by swamp gas.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has refrained from commenting on the military situation in Crimea and elsewhere, continuing to repeat that everything is “proceeding as planned.”

Why is Crimea such a touchy topic? And why is it proving to be so hard to defend?

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