Your Thursday Briefing

Ukrainians with an anti-tank weapon on the front line in Bakhmut.Credit…Tyler Hicks/The New York Times

A disastrous Russian assault on Vuhledar

As Moscow steps up its offensive in eastern Ukraine, weeks of failed attacks on the Ukrainian stronghold of Vuhledar have left two Russian brigades in tatters, raised questions about the Kremlin’s military tactics and renewed doubts about its ability to maintain major ground assaults. After weeks of fighting, the scale of Moscow’s losses there is only now beginning to come into focus.

Russian commanders made basic mistakes, in this case failing to take into account the terrain — open fields littered with antitank mines — or the strength of the Ukrainian forces, a Ukrainian military spokesman said. Two of Russia’s most elite brigades — the 155th and 40th Naval Infantry Brigades — were decimated in Vuhledar, he said.

Vuhledar has been used by Ukraine as a base for harassing shipments on an important rail line supplying Russian forces. In one week alone since the clash for the city began, Russia lost at least 130 armored vehicles, including 36 tanks, according to Ukrainian estimates. Fighting for it has come at a cost for Ukraine, too, in terms of casualties and the ammunition it has expended to repel Russian troops.

Deployments: In recent weeks, Moscow has rushed tens of thousands more troops, many of them inexperienced new recruits, to the front lines ahead of the anniversary of Russia’s invasion on Feb. 24. Western officials estimate that a large part of Russia’s army is already fighting in Ukraine.

In other news from the war:

  • Poorly trained Russian soldiers captured by Ukraine describe being used as cannon fodder by commanders who throw waves of bodies into assaults.

  • A U.S.-backed report found that Russia had relocated 6,000 Ukrainian children to camps in Russian territory.

Nicola Sturgeon will remain in power until a successor is chosen. Credit…Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Scotland’s leader steps down

Nicola Sturgeon, a fiery campaigner for Scotland’s independence who led its government for more than eight years, has resigned as Scotland’s first minister, declaring that she was exhausted and had become too polarizing a figure to lead the country. She will retain the post until the Scottish National Party, which controls Parliament, chooses a successor, most likely next month.

A skilled veteran of the U.K.’s system of power sharing and a sure-handed leader during the coronavirus pandemic, she outlasted four British prime ministers while bedeviling each of them with her unyielding push for Scottish independence. That goal appears no closer than it was nearly a decade ago, when voters rejected a proposal for independence.

So dominant is Sturgeon’s position that political analysts said there was no obvious successor — an acute problem for a party that faces a crossroads on independence, with the British government remaining implacably opposed to another referendum, but a weakness that she said was another reason for her to step away. Here are some of the contenders.

Quotation: “Is carrying on right for me?” Sturgeon said. “And, more important, is me carrying on right for my country, my party, and for the independence cause I have devoted my life to? I’ve reached the difficult conclusion that it’s not.”

Devolution: Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is the current leader of the U.K. But while his government makes decisions for England, some responsibilities are left to elected officials in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, including decisions relating to the economy, education, health and justice.

Syrians waiting to cross back into Syria from Turkey.Credit…Nicole Tung for The New York Times

Syrians return home from Turkey

Thousands of Syrian refugees who had fled to Turkey amid war in their own country, but who then found themselves amid the rubble of last week’s devastating earthquake, yesterday crossed the border to their homeland, even if only temporarily. Many carried suitcases, plastic bags and potato sacks holding whatever personal belongings they had been able to salvage.

They were responding to an announcement on social media by Syrian officials at the Bab al-Hawa border crossing that Turkey would allow them to leave for three to six months and then return, although Turkish officials could not immediately be reached for comment on whether the country’s policy on returning had changed.

Turkey hosts about 3.7 million Syrians and has tightly controlled the border for years to prevent more refugees from coming in. Most of the Syrians who have returned home in the past few years for brief visits risked not being allowed back into Turkey.

First person: “We have no other choice but to go to Syria,” a young father of two said as he waited to cross the border. “But of course there is a fear that Turkey won’t allow us to return. We can’t guarantee it.”

In other news from the quakes:

  • Turkey’s main stock exchange reopened yesterday after a weeklong halt to trading. The country’s benchmark stock index, which had plunged in the days after the quake, jumped more than 9 percent.

  • A spokesman for the White Helmets civil defense organization said that the group’s rescue efforts in Syria had largely come to an end. And a second Saudi relief plane carrying food and other supplies for quake survivors landed in Syria.


Around the World

Credit…The New York Times
  • Researchers say that China’s official figure of around 83,000 coronavirus deaths is a vast undercount, and the true figure may be closer to between one million and 1.5 million deaths.

  • Two teenagers have been charged with murder after Brianna Ghey, a transgender 16-year-old girl, was found fatally stabbed in a park in northwest England.

  • Kabul’s Green Zone, once a leafy upper-middle-class neighborhood, used to be an enclave for diplomats. Now, the Taliban have moved in and are making it their own.

  • Lawmakers in Israel voted to allow the deportation of people jailed for terrorism who also receive financial reward for their violence — including Israeli citizens.

Other Big Stories

Credit…MCS1 Tyler Thompson/U.S. Navy
  • China accused the U.S. of flying balloons over Xinjiang and Tibet. In related news, U.S. officials now believe the three unidentified flying objects shot down last weekend were probably not surveillance devices.

  • The U.S. is on track to add nearly $19 trillion to its national debt over the next decade, $3 trillion more than forecast.

  • In East Palestine, Ohio, where a train carrying toxic chemicals derailed this month and started a fire, many residents fear that their health is in jeopardy.

What Else Is Happening

  • Scientists found that overall melting beneath the Thwaites ice shelf in Antarctica was less than expected — but that rapid melting was occurring in unexpected places.

  • The 17-year-old captain of the Thai soccer team that survived a cave rescue in 2018 has died in England.

  • The oldest nearly complete version of the Hebrew Bible, believed to date from about 1,100 years ago, will be auctioned in May.

  • Easter is saved: A man in Britain admitted to stealing nearly 200,000 Cadbury Creme Eggs, in what the local police described as an “eggs-travagent” theft.

A Morning Read


“You can negotiate your terms,” they sing, “if you’ll keep us free from germs.”

The English village of Lostwithiel, with a population of 5,000 people, is looking for a new general practitioner amid a national shortage of primary care doctors. After advertisements failed to produce a single inquiry, they hope a music video will do the trick.

Lives Lived

Credit…Mario Anzuoni/Reuters

The actress Raquel Welch, who became the 1960s’ first major American sex symbol and maintained that image for a half-century in show business, died yesterday at 82.


Canadian teammates forge a brotherhood after earthquake: Sam Adekugbe, who plays for Hatayspor, a Turkish soccer club not far from the earthquake’s epicenter, leaned on his teammate Atiba Hutchinson after the tragedy.

Inside Benfica’s talent factory: From on-the-field psychologists to dance sessions, we go behind the scenes at Portugal’s most productive academy to see how superstars are made.

Manchester United ownership survey: There is a Friday deadline for bidders to express their interest in buying the club. But what kind of owners do fans want?


A Chilean mystery remains unsolved

Credit…The New York Times

Officially, at least, the celebrated Chilean poet Pablo Neruda died in 1973 of cancer. But there has long been suspicion — amid plenty of circumstantial evidence — that he was murdered, as a prominent ally of the leftist government that had recently been toppled.

Yesterday, after a decade-long investigation, forensic experts gave a Chilean judge a long-awaited report on their analysis of Neruda’s exhumed remains. The verdict: maybe.

On the one hand, a potentially toxic type of bacteria that would not naturally occur there was found in Neruda’s body. On the other, it’s not clear whether it was a toxic strain, and the investigators could not reach a conclusion as to whether he had been injected with the bacteria or if, instead, it had come from contaminated food.

“If he had a toxic strain, how would it have gotten there?” one of the investigators said. “That is more a matter of imagination, and not science.”

Catch up: Who was Neruda, and why was his death such a mystery? Here’s why there are so many questions around his death.

For more: “Tonight I can write the saddest lines. / Write, for example, ‘The night is starry and the stars are blue and shiver in the distance.’” Revisit one of Neruda’s most beloved works.


What to Cook

Credit…David Malosh for The New York Times. Food Stylist: Simon Andrews.

Serve this Polish pickle soup with good, crusty bread.

What to Read

Sonora Jha’s satirical novel “The Laughter” follows a professor who lusts after his younger Pakistani colleague.


At Ghibli Park in Japan, the surreal imagination of the world’s greatest living animator, Hayao Miyazaki, is turned into a theme park.

Now Time to Play

Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: Camera type, for short (three letters).

And here are today’s Wordle and the Spelling Bee.

You can find all our puzzles here.

That’s it for today’s briefing. Thanks for joining me. — Natasha

P.S. Edward Wong, a diplomatic correspondent for The Times, wrote about how a reporting trip to China was scuttled by the spy balloon.

“The Daily” is about Microsoft’s new search engine.

You can reach Natasha and the team at

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