Your Tuesday briefing: Russia launches assault in eastern Ukraine

We cover Russia’s offensive in eastern Ukraine and the economic toll of Covid lockdowns in China.

The dreaded Russian offensive in eastern Ukraine has begun, a senior Ukrainian security official said on Monday. Russian forces had crossed the 300-mile front line, which runs along the Donbass and Kharkiv regions, at two separate points.

It comes after Russia hit Ukraine with one of the widest barrages of missile attacks in weeks. Russia claimed to have struck more than 300 Ukrainian military targets, including fuel depots and warehouses.

The attacks included a strike on the western city of Lviv, where seven people were killed in the city’s first wartime fatalities. The attacks there have upended the sense of relative safety in a city that has been a haven for many people fleeing war in other parts of the country.

Russian forces also launched artillery strikes on major cities, including Mykolaiv and Kharkiv, where six people were killed in residential areas. These attacks pinned down Ukrainian forces, preventing them from joining the fight further east as Russia prepared its offensive.

Prohibited weapons: It seems likely that Ukrainian troops used cluster munitions – which are internationally banned due to the harm they can cause to civilians – in an eastern village they were trying to retake from Russian forces , based on evidence reviewed by The New York Times.

Economic stress: The head of Russia’s central bank has warned that the consequences of Western sanctions are only beginning to be felt, a stark acknowledgment that undermines President Vladimir Putin’s claims.

Religion: Around the world, the war is dividing national churches, parishes and even families as they reevaluate their relationship with the Russian Orthodox Church and Patriarch Kirill, who encouraged Russian aggression.

Using some of the strictest methods in the world such as mass quarantines and border controls, China is trying to stamp out Covid in its biggest cities. Cases have started to fall in recent days, but newly released data shows the measures are taking a heavy toll on the world’s second-largest economy.

China’s economy grew 4.8 percent in the first three months of this year compared with the same period last year, slower than the government’s target. But much of that growth occurred in January and February, before the country was hit by its worst outbreak yet and many of its largest cities were essentially shut down. In March, retail sales – a crucial sign of consumer spending – were down 3.5% from a year ago.

The shutdowns could also fuel inflation around the world by further disrupting supply chains. A slow China would also import less from other countries, including natural resources, like oil, and consumer goods, like cherries or designer handbags.

Details: By the end of March, 14 major Chinese cities were experiencing severe lockdowns, and the share of China’s economic output accounted for by these cities fell from 14% to 8%.

In other pandemic updates:

Criss-crossing the country in the final days before the French presidential election, President Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen, his far-right opponent, have sought to overhaul the outlines of their economic programs to appeal to those struggling to s ‘get out.

Perceptions of the economy could determine who wins, as concerns over worsening economic insecurity, as well as rising costs of living amid fallout from Russia’s war on Ukraine, have become the main issues of the race, ahead of security and immigration.

Just last week Macron said he would consider relaxing his proposal to raise the retirement age from 62 to 65 to fund France’s national pension system – an idea that has received considerable disapproval . Macron also promised further tax cuts for households and businesses.

Le Pen, who favors the current retirement age, focused on economic issues close to the hearts of blue-collar voters. As Macron attempted to broker a ceasefire in Ukraine, Le Pen visited cities and rural areas across France, promising increased subsidies for vulnerable households and a 10% increase in the monthly minimum wage in France.

And after: French voters head to the polls on Sunday, and Macron is currently expected to win in a tight race.

On the remote subantarctic island of South Georgia, a series of ecological initiatives, including the eradication of several invasive species, have revived life and the landscape. With a seal population now numbering in the millions, the island has transformed into a soundscape of squeaks, barks, belches, moans and growls.

Once upon a time, Barnes & Noble was the sworn enemy of independent booksellers. Now it is important for their survival, reports Elizabeth Harris.

Many readers and writers viewed the chain as “powerhouse publishers, gobbling up independent stores,” Elizabeth wrote. But in an industry disrupted by online sales, Barnes & Noble helps readers discover new titles and publishers remain invested in physical store distribution.

The chain was in danger of collapsing, but new management bolstered sales by allowing it to act more like an independent seller. Non-accounting inventory was reduced and purchasing was decentralized, leaving store managers free to choose whether or not to bring in more copies based on local sales.

“It would be a disaster if they went bankrupt,” said a literary agent. “There is a real fear that without this chain of books, the printing industry would be far behind.”

What no one has been able to replicate online are accidental finds – books that readers find in a store. Such a discovery is crucial for writers who are not established names. “The more Amazon’s market share grows, the fewer discoveries there are overall and the fewer new voices are going to be heard,” said the founder of an independent publisher.

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