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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Nicola Slawson

First Thing: Fighting escalates along Ukraine frontlines

A Ukrainian soldier fires a mortar at Russian positions on the frontline near Bakhmut last week.
A Ukrainian soldier fires a mortar at Russian positions on the frontline near Bakhmut last week. Photograph: Efrem Lukatsky/AP

Good morning.

A significant escalation in fighting along the frontlines in the Donetsk and Zaporizhzhia regions has been reported overnight, but there was no confirmation from Ukrainian officials that it marked the started of their long-planned counteroffensive.

Russia claimed to have repelled a “major offensive” in the Donetsk region and to have killed hundreds of Ukrainian troops but the claims could not be independently verified. A Moscow-backed militia leader and Russian military bloggers admitted that Ukrainian forces had achieved a breakthrough in at least one point in south-western Donetsk.

The defence ministry in Moscow said Ukraine had attacked with six mechanised and two tank battalions from two brigades.

  • How many people have died? The Russian ministry claimed 250 Ukrainian troops had been killed, and 16 tanks, three infantry fighting vehicles and 21 armoured personnel carriers destroyed, but the claims could not be independently verified.

  • What has Ukraine said? Ukrainian officials made no comment, and emphasised the need for secrecy about operations in recent days as anticipation grew for a major counteroffensive. Ukrainian military officers have predicted any such counteroffensive would be preceded and accompanied by feints and diversionary attacks to “shape the battlefield” and cause as much confusion as possible in Russian ranks.

US jets pursue light aircraft over Washington DC before it crashes in Virginia

A group of F-16 aircraft above the US Capitol building.
A group of F-16 aircraft above the US Capitol building. Photograph: Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images

US authorities scrambled fighter jets to intercept an unresponsive light aircraft that violated the airspace over the Washington DC area and later crashed into mountainous terrain in south-west Virginia, officials have said.

Four people were onboard the Cessna Citation plane, according to CNN, which cited an unnamed source. Police said rescuers had found no survivors onboard the plane.

The fighter jets caused a sonic boom over Washington DC on Sunday as they raced to catch up with the light aircraft, sending some residents into a brief panic. A US official said the jet fighters did not cause the crash.

The plane that crashed was registered to a company based in Florida. John Rumpel, who runs the company, told the New York Times his daughter, two-year-old granddaughter, her nanny and the pilot were onboard. They were returning to their home in East Hampton, Long Island, after visiting his North Carolina home, he said.

  • What happened before the plane crashed? It’s unclear. Rumpel, a pilot, told the newspaper he didn’t have much information from authorities but hoped his family didn’t suffer and suggested the plane could have lost pressure. The US military attempted to establish contact with the pilot, who was unresponsive, until the Cessna crashed near the George Washington National Forest in Virginia, the North American Aerospace Defense Command said.

Brazil police charge alleged mastermind behind murders of Dom Phillips and Bruno Pereira

A banner of Dom Phillips and Bruno Pereira.
Two more men have been charged over the murders of Dom Phillips and Bruno Pereira. Photograph: Luciola Villela/AFP/Getty Images

Brazilian police have charged the alleged leader of a “transnational criminal organization” with being the mastermind of the murders of Dom Phillips and Bruno Pereira in the Amazon one year ago.

The British journalist and the Brazilian Indigenous expert were shot dead while returning from a reporting trip to the remote Javari valley region on 5 June 2022.

Three local fishers are in prison awaiting a possible jury trial on suspicion of murdering Phillips and Pereira, a former government official who had been helping Indigenous activists to defend their lands from illegal fishing and mining gangs.

Last night, the Brazilian broadcaster TV Globo revealed that federal police had formally charged two more men over the murders.

Evidence gathered during the year-long investigation suggested “the steps of Bruno and Dom were being monitored by the criminal organization” in the days leading up to the crime.

  • Who else has been charged? Ruben Dario da Silva Villar, the alleged leader of a transnational illegal fishing network that operated in the tri-border region between Brazil, Colombia and Peru, and Jânio Freitas de Souza, a fisher who was allegedly one of Silva Villar’s henchmen along the Itaquaí River where Phillips and Pereira were murdered. Federal police charged Silva Villar – who is known by the nickname Colombia – with ordering the murders and the concealment of the bodies of the victims. Souza was charged with participation in both crimes.

In other news …

  • Florida taxpayers are picking up the bill for Ron DeSantis’s culture war lawsuits, critics say. The governor’s battle with Disney and other extremist policies have been met with costly lawsuits covered by a “blank check” from Republican legislature.

  • The US military has released a video of what it called an “unsafe” Chinese maneuver in the Taiwan Strait at the weekend, in which a Chinese navy ship cut sharply across the path of an American destroyer, forcing the US ship to slow to avoid a collision.

  • Nearly 80 girls were poisoned and hospitalised in two separate attacks at their primary schools in northern Afghanistan, a local education official said yesterday. He said the person who orchestrated the poisoning had a personal grudge but did not elaborate.

  • Thousands of bowel cancer patients could be spared radiotherapy, a study suggested, after doctors discovered they could rely on chemotherapy and surgery alone to treat their diseases. Radiotherapy has been used to treat bowel cancer patients for decades but the side-effects can be brutal.

Stat of the day: Hundreds march in Poland against rightwing populist government in ‘biggest’ political gathering in decades

Donald Tusk.
Donald Tusk: ‘The whole of Poland, the whole of Europe and the whole world sees how strong we are and how we are ready to fight for democracy and freedom again, like we did 30, 40 years ago.’ Photograph: Paweł Supernak/EPA

Hundreds of thousands of people have marched through central Warsaw to protest against Poland’s rightwing populist government before a delicately poised election due in the autumn. The Law and Justice (PiS) party came to power in 2015, since when it has eroded democratic norms, attacked the independent judiciary and launched campaigns against the LGBTQ+ community and reproductive rights.

“We’re half a million here, it’s a record,” said Donald Tusk, the former prime minister who leads the Civic Platform opposition grouping. He said the march had been the biggest political gathering since Poland regained independence after the communist period.

There was no official confirmation of the size of the rally, though Warsaw’s city hall also gave a 500,000 estimate, and central streets thronged with crowds of protesters. Many people waved Polish or EU flags and the mood was defiant but often festive.

Don’t miss this: Six-year-old orphan or ‘con artist’ adult? Revisiting the strange story of Natalia Grace

Kristine and Michael Barnett.
Kristine and Michael Barnett in ID’s The Curious Case of Natalia Grace. Photograph: ID’s The Curious Case of Natalia Grace

It’s been years since a central Indiana couple adopted a girl from Ukraine, became convinced that she was an adult impersonating a child, and abandoned her, setting off an international media frenzy and a legal showdown with authorities who accused them of parental neglect. But even after the recent release of a slickly produced docu-series broke new ground on the saga, the mystery surrounding Natalia Grace’s virtually unprecedented adoption case seems to remain unsolved: exactly how old was she when Michael and Kristine Barnett left her? And was it unreasonable that they did so?

Climate check: Rich nations undermining work to help poor countries, research suggests

Sultan Al Jaber, president-designate of Cop28.
Sultan Al Jaber, president-designate of Cop28, is also head of UAE’s national oil company, Adnoc. Photograph: John MacDougall/AP

Rich nations are undermining work to protect poor and vulnerable countries from the impacts of the climate crisis, by providing loans instead of grants, siphoning off money from other aid projects or mislabelling cash, research suggests. Only $11.5bn (£9.2bn) of climate finance from rich countries in 2020 was devoted to helping poor countries adapt to extreme weather, despite increasing incidences of climate-related disaster, according to a report from Oxfam.

Nafkote Dabi, the charity’s international climate change policy lead, said this was inadequate given the scale of the problem. “Don’t be fooled into thinking $11.5bn is anywhere near enough for low- and middle-income countries to help their people with more and bigger floods, hurricanes, firestorms, droughts and other terrible harms brought about by climate change,” she said. “People in the US spend four times that each year feeding their cats and dogs.”

Last Thing: Barbie film required so much pink paint it contributed to worldwide shortage

Margot Robbie as Barbie.
The film’s production designer Sarah Greenwood says ‘the world ran out of pink’ during construction of Barbieland and lifesize versions of the doll’s Dreamhouse. Photograph: Jaap Buitendijk

Greta Gerwig’s upcoming Barbie film required so much pink paint during construction that it wiped out an entire company’s global supply. Speaking to Architectural Digest, Gerwig and the film’s production designer, Sarah Greenwood, spoke about the construction of Barbieland, which is almost entirely fluorescent pink, from the lifesize versions of the doll’s Dreamhouse to the roads and lamp-posts.

In the interview, Greenwood, a six-time Oscar nominee, said the film had caused an international shortage of pink paint. “The world ran out of pink,” she told the magazine. While some media outlets repeated the claim without qualification, Lauren Proud, the vice-president of global marketing at Rosco, the paint company used by the film, shared extra context with the Los Angeles Times.

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