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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Nicola Slawson

First Thing: Joe Biden arrives in Kyiv in surprise visit

Joe Biden and Volodymyr Zelenskiy in Kyiv.
Joe Biden and Volodymyr Zelenskiy in Kyiv. Photograph: Volodymyr Zelenskiy/Telegram

Good morning.

Joe Biden has arrived in Kyiv to meet Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy. Biden’s public itinerary had suggested he would be visiting Poland, but the US president arrived in Ukraine’s capital this morning and has been spotted on a walkabout in the country’s capital.

In a statement, the US president said he was there to announce “another delivery of critical equipment, including artillery ammunition, anti-armor systems and air surveillance radars” as well as more sanctions.

The New York Times is reporting that Biden travelled to Kyiv after a hours-long train ride from the border with Poland. He and Zelenskiy visited Saint Michael’s monastery as an air raid warning sounded across the city. The newspaper described the visit as “a demonstration of his administration’s resolve in the face of Russia’s year-long invasion of the country”.

The White House has issued a statement about Biden’s visit to Ukraine this morning. It reads: “As the world prepares to mark the one-year anniversary of Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine, I am in Kyiv today to meet with President Zelenskiy and reaffirm our unwavering and unflagging commitment to Ukraine’s democracy, sovereignty, and territorial integrity. When Putin launched his invasion nearly one year ago, he thought Ukraine was weak and the west was divided. He thought he could outlast us. But he was dead wrong.”

  • What else is happening? The EU foreign affairs chief, Josep Borrell, backed a call from Estonia for the bloc’s members to buy arms jointly to help Ukraine – an approach officials have said would be more efficient than EU members placing individual orders. EU foreign ministers are expected to discuss the plan in Brussels today. He said the war was over unless the EU boosted its military support.

  • How would it work? Borrell said he would table plans at the meeting to use the existing €3.6bn (£3.2bn) European peace facility for the EU to procure ammunition jointly on the model of the procurement of vaccines during the Covid crisis.

Facebook and Instagram to get paid verification as Twitter charges for two-factor SMS authentication

Illustration shows blue verification badge and Meta logos
Mark Zuckerberg follows Elon Musk’s lead in introducing fee for blue ticks, while Twitter to restrict 2FA via SMS to paid users. Photograph: Dado Ruvić/Reuters

Facebook and Instagram users will soon need to pay to be verified on the social media platforms, as Meta follows in the footsteps of rival platform Twitter.

Mark Zuckerberg, Meta’s chief executive, announced in a Facebook post on Sunday that the service would first roll out in Australia and New Zealand later this week. The company said it would cost US$11.99 a month on web or US$14.99 on iOS and Android (or, in Australia, $19.99 on web or $24.99 on iOS and Android).

Zuckerberg said in addition to a blue badge the service would offer “extra impersonation protection”, improved reach for verified users and direct access to customer support.

In a blog post, Meta said it would rely on government ID documents to prove the identity of verified accounts to avoid the embarrassment of accounts impersonating people and brands – as happened when Twitter initially introduced its paid verification service.

  • What else is going on at the social media company? Meta cut 11,000 staff in November – the equivalent of 13% of its workforce – amid falling ad revenue and economic downturn. The company’s share price fell by more than 70% in 2022 before a rebound and in July it reported its first ever fall in revenue.

  • What has Elon Musk said? Twitter’s chief executive, Elon Musk, responded to the news in a tweet saying it was “inevitable” Meta would follow Twitter.

Ohio train derailment reveals need for urgent reform, workers say

An aerial photo shows workers removing contaminants as cleanup continues in the aftermath of a freight train in East Palestine, Ohio, USA.
The scene of the train derailment in East Palestine in Ohio. Photograph: Tannen Maury/EPA

Railroad workers have said the train derailment in Ohio, which forced thousands of residents to evacuate and is now spreading a noxious plume of carcinogenic chemicals across the area, should be an “eye-opening” revelation for Congress and “an illustration of how the railroads operate, and how they’re getting away with a lot of things”.

Workers and union officials cited the Norfolk Southern Railway derailment in early February as a glaring example of why safety reforms to the industry – which include providing workers with paid sick leave – need to be made.

Thirty-eight cars on the train derailed in the town of East Palestine, near the Pennsylvania border, including 11 cars carrying hazardous materials that incited an evacuation order, a controlled release of chemicals and fears of harmful chemical exposure to residents, wildlife and waterways.

Unions and rail companies have been at loggerheads for years over new contracts that would address what workers describe as poor working conditions and would provide paid sick days amid grueling schedules caused by labor cuts.

  • What has the Ohio senator Sherrod Brown said? Speaking on Sunday to CNN’s State of the Union, the Democrat said the derailment, which released toxic chemicals including the carcinogenic vinyl chloride, was an episode of “the same old story”, and that Norfolk Southern “caused it”.

In other news …

A collection of children’s books by Roald Dahl
Passages of text in some new editions of Roald Dahl’s books have been updated with modern audiences in mind. Photograph: Ben Molyneux/Alamy
  • Critics are accusing the British publisher of Roald Dahl’s classic children’s books of censorship after it removed colourful language from works such as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Matilda to make them more acceptable to modern readers.

  • Heavy rains in coastal areas of Brazil’s south-east have caused flooding and landslides that killed 36 people and displaced hundreds of others, São Paulo state authorities said yesterday. Rescue workers are searching for victims, reconnecting isolated communities and clearing blocked roads.

  • The revisionist German war drama All Quiet on the Western Front has swept the board at the Baftas in London, taking a remarkable seven awards, including best picture. The night’s other big winner was The Banshees of Inisherin, which also gained significant momentum in this year’s Oscars race.

  • North Korea fired two ballistic missiles off its east coast today, South Korea’s military said, as the sister of Kim Jong-un warned the nuclear-armed state could turn the Pacific into a “firing range”. The tests prompted the head of the ruling party in South Korea to warn that continued provocations by Pyongyang would only strengthen calls for the South to develop its own nuclear deterrent.

  • A Catholic bishop in southern California, who was hailed as a “peacemaker”, was shot and killed on Saturday blocks away from a church, stunning the Los Angeles religious community. Detectives were investigating the death of Bishop David O’Connell as a homicide.

Don’t miss this: From cradle to compost – the disruptors who want to make death greener

Katrina Spade, founder and CEO of Recompose, poses with a shrouded mannequin in front of an array of human composting vessels
Katrina Spade, the founder and chief executive of Recompose, poses with a shrouded mannequin in front of an array of human composting vessels in Seattle. Photograph: Mat Hayward/Getty Images for Recompose

Americans are looking for greener ways to die, and a new wave of deathcare startups are rising to the occasion. After death, bodies are typically handled in one of two ways: embalmed and buried in a casket, or incinerated and turned into ashes. But both of these options have contributed to the environmental crisis – with fossil fuel-intensive cremation emitting chemicals such as carbon monoxide into the air and burials taking up large swathes of land. As interest in alternatives rises, startups aiming to disrupt these practices are gaining steam. The growth in demand comes in part due to Covid-19, experts say. The pandemic brought death to the forefront of the public consciousness and exposed concerns about its environmental destruction.

… or this: White Lotus inspires love of Italian maximalist look

White Lotus actor Meghann Fahy as Daphne Babcock with a colourful Sicilian vase.
Meghann Fahy as Daphne Babcock in The White Lotus with a testa di moro, a motif in the series. Photograph: HBO

Fans of The White Lotus will be familiar with the classic Sicilian vases known as testa di moro that adorn the fictional luxury hotel in the second season of the TV drama. The director uses these ornaments as a powerful visual motif to remind viewers to be wary of the guests and their actions. But their appearance in the hit show has also prompted a surge of interest in Italian maximalist ceramics. While maximalism – and Italy in general – are already having a pop culture moment, evident in fashion, television and interiors, The White Lotus has only helped to drive the trend. “Over-the-top seems to be the rule of the day,” said Carl J Dellatore the New York writer, textile designer and author of More Is More Is More.

Climate check: Climate crisis brings whiff of danger to French perfume capital

A picker harvests jasmine – which fetches a higher price than gold – to be used to make Chanel No 5 perfume in fields near Grasse, in southern France.
A picker harvests jasmine – which fetches a higher price than gold – to be used to make Chanel No 5 perfume in fields near Grasse, in southern France. Photograph: Eric Gaillard/Reuters

Since the 17th century, Grasse has been known worldwide for its fragrant flowers. Situated just inland from the French Riviera, Grasse enjoys a microclimate that allows fields of may rose, tuberose, lavender and jasmine to blossom. Today, the region produces flowers for some of the world’s biggest luxury brands, including Dior and Chanel. Grasse’s jasmine sells for a higher price than gold. Around the world, Grasse’s producers are recognised as leaders in the industry: in 2018, Unesco placed the region’s perfume culture on its intangible cultural heritage list. But climate change is threatening this tradition. Extreme weather patterns such as droughts, heatwaves and excessive rainfall have made growing flowers increasingly difficult.

Last Thing: Art fair visitor breaks $42,000 Jeff Koons balloon dog sculpture

Shattered pieces of a sculpture by renowned artist Jeff Koon’s “Balloon Dog” series on the exhibition floor, after it was accidentally toppled by a visitor during an art preview in Miami.
Fragments litter the gallery floor after a woman tapped the sculpture and it toppled to the floor. Photograph: Bel-Air Fine Art - Contemporary/AFP/Getty Images

A small sculpture valued at $42,000 (£35,000) by the renowned artist Jeff Koons has been broken at the opening night of an art fair in Miami, by a woman who gave it a little tap. The incident took place at the Bel-Air Fine Art gallery during the VIP-only opening of the Art Wynwood contemporary arts fair on Thursday. The blue sculpture, part of Koons’ famous “balloon dog” series, was perched on a pedestal featuring the name of the American artist when the woman – an unidentified art collector – was said to have tapped the sculpture, which then fell to the floor and shattered into smithereens. The art adviser Benedicte Caluch told the Miami Herald the sculpture was covered by insurance, so the woman would not have to foot the bill.

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