Your Wednesday Briefing: Calls to Free Up Ukraine’s Grain Exports

We’re covering the food crisis caused by the war in Ukraine and the unequal toll of the coronavirus pandemic.

A grain farm near Lviv, Ukraine.Credit…Diego Ibarra Sanchez for The New York Times

Leaders accuse Russia of weaponizing hunger

World leaders called for international involvement to free up 20 million tons of grain currently trapped in Ukraine, as fears of a global food crisis rise.

Some Western officials, including Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, have accused Russia of weaponizing the crisis by confiscating Ukraine’s grain stocks and agricultural machinery, bombarding grain warehouses and trapping Ukrainian cargo vessels carrying wheat and sunflower seeds in the Black Sea.

The E.U. is now considering alternate routes and methods, such as one in which a flotilla escorted by vessels from non-NATO countries would try to break the Russian blockade off Odesa. But doing so would risk a wider confrontation with Russia.

On the ground: Russia’s military pounded civilian areas in the eastern Ukrainian city of Sievierodonetsk, killing four civilians. A riverside city, Sievierodonetsk is critical for control of the wider Donbas region.

Visualized: The goals of Russia’s invasion keep getting smaller. But its depleted military is still failing to make major advances, and time is on Ukraine’s side. Take a look at our maps showing the war’s progression.

Refugees: The British government opened a program to offer Ukrainian refugees a quick path to safety. But despite tens of thousands of Britons having expressed interest in playing host, the rollout has been painfully slow.

Literature: Here’s how Ukraine’s greatest novelist is fighting for his country.

President Biden with, from left, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese of Australia, Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India, and Prime Minister Fumio Kishida of Japan in Tokyo on Tuesday.Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

Biden’s Taiwan comments strain Quad leaders

On the eve of a summit between the U.S., Australia, India and Japan — the so-called Quad — President Biden’s vow to defend Taiwan against Chinese attack left the allied leaders in a tricky position as they sought to avoid further antagonizing Beijing.

Biden’s comments presented a particular challenge for Australia’s new prime minister, Anthony Albanese, who was elevated to the position over the weekend. Albanese has been expected to pursue a closer relationship with China than his country had under his predecessor, and his foreign minister has harshly criticized suggestions that Australia would follow the U.S. into any war over Taiwan.

At Tuesday’s summit, Biden sought to temper his comments, saying that his administration had not abandoned the “strategic ambiguity” over Taiwan long embraced by the U.S. Asked if he would send in troops if China attacked Taiwan, Biden said, “The policy has not changed at all.”

Response: The Quad leaders sought to play up consensus where they could. The bloc released a statement calling for “peace and stability” in Ukraine and announced initiatives on cybersecurity, space, vaccine distribution and a data-sharing partnership to monitor shipping routes in the South China Sea.

Poor countries have suffered higher Covid death rates

Globally, many poorer and developing countries have experienced far more deaths above normal levels than wealthy ones have during 2020 and 2021, according to data released by the W.H.O. that aims to measure the true toll of the pandemic.

While most rich countries have comparatively older populations, they also have had access to the lion’s share of lifesaving supplies such as vaccines, antiviral treatments, masks and testing kits. Some of the countries with the largest increases in death rates during the first two years of the pandemic were those in the upper-middle-income groups: Ecuador (50 percent above normal), Mexico (about 40 percent above normal) and Peru (97 percent above normal).

Some wealthy countries have also seen major spikes in deaths. In the U.S., deaths were 15 percent above normal, a number surpassed by only four other large, high-income countries: Chile, the Czech Republic, Poland and Romania.

For more, read the full report.

Global scale: According to the report, about 13 percent more people worldwide, or about 15 million more people, died than expected in the first two years of the pandemic.



Closed and cordoned-off stores in Shanghai in March.Credit…Qilai Shen for The New York Times
  • As China’s youth grapples with strict Covid rules, a once-nationalistic generation dreams of escaping, our New New World columnist writes.

  • China and Russia held joint military exercises, sending bombers over the seas in northeast Asia as President Biden visited the region.

  • Airbnb, the last large U.S. internet business to remain in China, shut down its business there.

Around the World

Damien Abad, the French minister for solidarity, on Monday.Credit…Christophe Petit Tesson/EPA, via Shutterstock
  • Amid a reckoning over sexism and sexual abuse by French political figures, two women have accused Damien Abad, the minister for solidarity and disabled people, of rape.

  • Health officials in more than a dozen nations are assessing their stores of smallpox vaccines, which are also effective against monkeypox.

  • The U.S. birthrate ticked up, halting a steady decline.

  • Romania could become the first country in the world to have a type of nuclear plant known as a small modular reactor, under a proposed deal with the U.S.

A Morning Read

Alex Ordoñez, center, calling his family in Nicaragua after arriving at a shelter for migrants in San Benito, Texas.Credit…Kirsten Luce for The New York Times

As the U.S. experiences the largest wave of migration at its southwestern border in decades — 8,200 crossings daily — it is increasingly relying on an informal pipeline of shelters to provide meals, places to cool off or sleep, legal guidance, and medical care for migrants, many of whom seek asylum.


Designers and their sets

Live theater has an energy unmatched by digital performances, and this Broadway season is no exception. The Times picked five current productions with designs “that would lose something essential if you tried to put them on camera” and spoke with their designers.

The sets have an extraordinary level of detail that deserves a closer look. In “Plaza Suite,” the designer John Lee Beatty tried to be accurate to the Plaza Hotel but removed some real-life objects that didn’t match its image. “Like plastic wastebaskets,” he said. “In fact, I invented an official ‘Plaza Suite’ wastebasket with its own logo.”

For Adam Rigg, who designed the set for “The Skin of Our Teeth,” it’s about making people want to be part of the décor themselves. “This desire to get up and get into this space is, I think, fascinating in a time when all we do is sit and stare at screens,” he said.


What to Cook

Credit…Chris Simpson for The New York Times

Ginger-garlic shrimp with coconut milk will make your kitchen smell heavenly.

What to Listen to

Oliver Sim, of the British band the xx, is putting out his first solo album. He spoke with The Times about why he chose to disclose his H.I.V. status through the songs’ lyrics.

What to Read

“Phil,” a new biography of the confounding golf star Phil Mickelson.

Now Time to Play

Play today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: Medieval laborer (four letters).

Here’s today’s Wordle.

And here is today’s Spelling Bee.

You can find all our puzzles here.

That’s it for today’s briefing. See you next time. — Matthew

P.S. The Times won nine awards from the New York Press Club, including coverage from Metro, Culture and Sports.

The latest episode of “The Daily” is about Taiwan.

You can reach Matthew and the team at [email protected].

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