Russia launched a war against Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022, targeting more than a dozen cities and the Chernobyl nuclear site within the first day of the invasion.
The ongoing war not only threatens Ukraine's continued existence as an independent country, but the conflict will likely have wide-reaching ramifications for science-related industries and organizations the world over. In addition, the potential for nuclear war and damage to Ukraine's various nuclear sites pose a threat to public health and the environment, on a global scale.
As the war continues, Live Science will be sharing live updates on how the conflict is impacting various scientific fields, the energy sector and the space industry. We'll also be covering developments related to nuclear weapons and power plants, as well as relevant health news, such as the state of medical supply chains in Ukraine and updates on how the COVID-19 pandemic is unfolding in the region.
US and EU strike landmark energy supply deal
On Friday (March 25), U.S. President Joe Biden and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced the establishment of a joint task force to help reduce European dependence on Russian fossil fuels, according to a White House statement. The Task Force for Energy Security will be chaired by a representative from the White House and a representative of the President of the European Commission.
Through this partnership, the U.S. will work with international partners to increase exports of liquified natural gas (LNG) to Europe; the plan does not specify how much of this LNG will be supplied by the U.S., specifically, according to Reuters. In the short-term, for the U.S. to increase its LNG exports to Europe, the nation would likely need to compensate by exporting less LNG to other places, analysts told Reuters.
In addition to diversifying Europe's LNG supply, the task force will work to "reduce overall gas demand by accelerating market deployment of clean energy measures," the White House statement reads.
Speaking in Brussels after the deal was agreed on Friday, Biden said that launching the task force was not "only the right thing to do from a moral standpoint" but "it's going to put us on a stronger strategic footing," The Guardian reported.
Russian forces destroy Chernobyl 'radioactive' lab
Russian forces have destroyed a laboratory located in Chernobyl's exclusion zone where radioactive samples were being stored, according to news outlets.
The laboratory, which cost about 6 million euros to build, opened in 2015 and was aimed at improving the management of radioactive waste at the plant, among other objectives. The State Agency of Ukraine on Exclusion Zone Management reported on social media that the Russian military has now destroyed the facility and that radioactive material is in the "hands of the enemy" rather than the hands of a "civilized world," The Hill reported.
At the start of the invasion, Russian forces seized control of the power plant, holding hostage more than 60 workers who continued to try to maintain safety at the plant until volunteers could replace them, The Hill said.
In addition, the automated radiation monitoring system in the exclusion zone has stopped working, according to National Nuclear Energy Generating Company of Ukraine (also called Energoatom), as reported by The Hill.
Russian forces took control of Chernobyl early in the invasion on Feb. 24. After the defunct nuclear plant was seized, more than 60 workers continued to work for about 600 hours to maintain the facility until volunteers were able to replace them.
Chernobyl is the site of the 1986 nuclear reactor meltdown, considered the world's worst nuclear disaster. The defunct plant and the contaminated zone surrounding the disaster, continue to be a a safety risk as Russian forces shell and bomb the area.
Ukraine using AI to identify deceased Russian soldiers
Mykhailo Fedorov, the deputy prime minister and head of the Digital Transformation Ministry in Ukraine, has confirmed that Ukraine is using facial recognition technology to identify deceased Russian soldiers, Forbes reported. Specifically, they're using software provided by Clearview AI, the New York-based facial recognition provider, which has offered the service without charge, Fedorov's department told Forbes.
Ukraine's aim in identifying Russian soldiers is to inform their loved ones of the deaths, and in doing so, "dispel the myth of a 'special operation' in which there are 'no conscripts' and 'no one dies,'" Fedorov wrote in a Telegram post, according to Forbes. In other words, the effort is intended to counter Russian propaganda and help reveal exactly how many Russian soldiers are dying in the ongoing war.
Albert Fox Cahn, founder of the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project, told Forbes that using facial recognition technology of this kind in a war could be a "human rights catastrophe in the making." The technology is fallible, so it's possible that the deceased could sometimes be misidentified and the wrong loved ones informed of the death, he noted. He also expressed concern that the technology may eventually be used to screen refugees at checkpoints, where misidentification could have fatal consequences.
Read more about the facial recognition technology in Forbes.
International agency 'gravely concerned' about safety of Ukraine nuclear reactors
An international organization that promotes the peaceful use of nuclear energy is "gravely concerned" about Ukraine's nuclear reactors, which are at high risk of a severe accident due to the Russian invasion of the country, the related intense fighting and Russia's seizure of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.
"Over the past few weeks, the International Atomic Energy Agency has been actively working to ensure the safety and security of all nuclear installations in Ukraine during these dramatic and unique circumstances where major nuclear facilities are operating in an armed conflict zone," Rafael Mariano Grossi, IAEA director-general, said in a video statement Wednesday (March 23). "I remain gravely concerned about the safety and security of nuclear facilities in Ukraine."
Several of Ukraine's 15 working nuclear reactors are currently under Russian control; Chernobyl has been occupied by the Russians since the start of the invasion on Feb. 24, according to The Guardian.
"The IAEA is ready and is able to deploy immediately and provide indispensable assistance for ensuring nuclear safety and security in Ukraine," Grossi said in the statement.
In addition to the bombs and missiles that could endanger these facilities, fires have broken out in Chernobyl, officials have said.
Firefighters are currently trying to extinguish wildfires near the Chernobyl Nuclear power Plant, the IAEA said in a statement Wednesday (March 23). "The fire brigade from the town of Chornobyl [Chernobyl] has extinguished four fires, but there are still ongoing fires. The local fire station does not currently have access to the electricity grid," the regulator said, as reported by the IAEA. The nuclear power plant continues to rely on offsite power, the IAEA said.
"The distressing situation continues and the need to prevent a nuclear accident becomes more pressing with each day that passes," Grossi said, emphasizing the importance of allowing in IAEA experts to ensure nuclear reactor safety.
"This assistance is essential to help avert the real risk of a severe nuclear accident that could threaten public health and the environment in Ukraine and beyond," Grossi said.
Kremlin statement regarding Russia's nuclear weapons; EU considers joint measures to tackle energy crisis
—Kremlin spokesperson Dmitri S. Peskov said that Russia would consider using nuclear weapons if the country comes under "existential threat," CNN reported. Peskov said this in an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, after he repeatedly characterized Russia's invasion as a defensive move to protect Russia from Ukraine, which he said was "formed by the Western countries, anti-Russia," according to The New York Times.
— On Wednesday (March 23), the European Commission presented European Union (EU) leaders with options to handle soaring energy prices and impending fuel shortages largely driven by Russia's invasion of Ukraine, The New York Times reported. Some options include establishing price caps and subsidies, to lower energy prices for both consumers and businesses. Additional proposals suggest that, in advance of next winter, member states should jointly buy and store fuel so that resources can be rapidly stockpiled and then shared across the bloc.
Russia may soon resort to more severe tactics, Biden says
Having recently launched its hypersonic missiles against Ukraine, Russia may soon resort to using more severe tactics, including biological and chemical weapons, President Joe Biden said in an address at the Business Roundtable’s CEO Quarterly Meeting on March 21.
"Now, Putin’s back is against the wall," Biden said. "And the more his back is against the wall, the greater the severity of the tactics he may employ."
Russia has asserted — without evidence — that the U.S. and Ukraine have biological and chemical weapons, Biden noted. "That’s a clear sign he [Putin] is considering using both of those. He’s already used chemical weapons in the past, and we should be careful … of what’s about to come."
In addition, Russia may soon execute cyberattacks against critical U.S. infrastructure, Biden said. "The magnitude of Russia’s cyber capacity is fairly consequential, and it’s coming," he said. "The federal government is doing its part to get ready."
Chernobyl trees could release radiation if fired upon
The trees around the Chernobyl nuclear power plant still hold loads of radiation absorbed during the 1986 nuclear meltdown, considered one of the world's worst nuclear disasters.
Since Feb. 25, Russian forces have occupied the power plant and the surrounding exclusion zone, taking plant employees hostage. This seizure and related fighting put the forest at an increased risk of catching fire, according to William Keeton, a forest ecosystem scientist at the University of Vermont. Such a fire would release potentially dangerous radiation into the atmosphere.
When the nuclear reactor "melted down" on April 26, 1986, it launched radionuclides across an area of about 58,000 square miles, according to Smithsonian Magazine. Some of that radiation washed down to the ground in rain, only to be taken up by growing trees. Those trees now store all of those radionuclides.
"These forests absorbed tremendous amounts of radiation during the 1986 disaster, and the trees and soils still contain significant radiation — in the form of large amounts of radioactive elements called radionuclides," Keeton said in a statement. If a forest fire happens — from a bomb, explosion or fire — this radiation could be released into the atmosphere.
The forest there is mostly coniferous, which includes relatively fire-prone types of trees, Keeton said. Because of that risk, the U.S. Forest Service and Ukrainian experts have worked together to manage the fire risk. With Russian occupation, that capacity has dwindled. In addition, the forests are near the warzone, meaning risks from gunfire, explosions and even power line damage, Keeton explained.
Forest fires in the exclusion zone are not unheard of. In April of 2020, about 50 acres (20 hectares) of forest caught fire near the abandoned village of Vladimirovka in Ukraine's exclusion zone, Live Science previously reported. Water drops from aircraft and a 124-person strong firefighting force were needed to put out that blaze.
Zoo near Kyiv requests safe passage to evacuate animals, procure food
The Park XII Months zoo, located about 15.5 miles (25 kilometers) north of Kyiv in Ukraine, has requested that a humanitarian corridor be established to allow some of its animals to be evacuated, The Independent reported. For large animals that are difficult to transport, such as the rhinos and giraffes, the zoo staff hope that such corridors could serve as transport routes for food and fuel to heat the animals' enclosures.
"We need green corridors to bring in diesel, heat, and feed them. We can’t take out rhinos and giraffes, big animals, we don’t even have medicine to put them to sleep. We need to negotiate green corridors," Mykhailo Pinchuk, the zoo's owner, said in a recent Facebook video, according to The Independent.
Since the start of the war, various humanitarian corridors have been established to allow tens of thousands of people to evacuate Ukraine, The Washington Post reported. However, these corridors have often been made impassable by ongoing Russian attacks, Ukrainian officials have said.
Countries must both prioritize clean energy and curb dependance on Russian oil, UN Secretary-General says
In response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine, countries must not only decrease their reliance on Russian oil and gas but also heavily invest in renewable energy sources, António Guterres, the Secretary-General of the United Nations (UN), said in an address on Monday (March 21), The Guardian reported.
It would be folly to invest in new fossil fuel infrastructure to make up for the loss of Russian resources, as doing so "might create long-term fossil fuel dependence and close the window to 1.5C," the goal set forth at the Cop26 UN climate summit last year, he said. "Countries could become so consumed by the immediate fossil fuel supply gap that they neglect or knee-cap policies to cut fossil fuel use."
Average global temperatures have already increased more than 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit (1 degree Celsius) since the pre-industrial era, The Washington Post reported. Estimates suggest that the world could pass the 2.7 F (1.5 C) cutoff by the 2030s, if critical action is not taken now.
"If we continue with more of the same, we can kiss 1.5 goodbye. Even 2 degrees may be out of reach," Guterres said Monday, according to the Post.
Leak at Ukraine ammonia plant sends residents into shelter
An ammonia leak at a chemical factory near the northern Ukrainian town of Novoselytsya has led officials to urge residents to take shelter, all amidst the intense fighting with Russian armed forces in the area, according to news reports.
The ammonia leak came from the Sumykhimprom fertilizer plant, the Sumy regional governor Dmytro Zhyvytsky said, as reported by Al Jazeera. Shelling from Russian forces caused the leak, he added, and wounded an employee at the plant.
The Russian army has said otherwise, calling the ammonia leak a "chemical false flag." Russian army spokesperson Igor Konashenkov said, “The Russian army has not planned or delivered any strikes against Ukrainian facilities that manufacture or keep in store poisonous chemicals," Al Jazeera quoted him.
Ammonia is a highly toxic gas made of nitrogen and hydrogen that produces a noxious odor. To produce the compound, plants utilize a chemical reaction of both elements at high temperature and pressure, according to the American Chemical Society. About 85% of the world's ammonia production is used directly or indirectly in agriculture, according to the ACS. The most common household use of the chemical is in glass cleaners. According to the ACS, exposure to the gas can cause severe skin burns and eye damage; it is toxic if inhaled and under pressure the gas can explode when heated.
Russia denies cosmonauts' suit colors showed Ukraine support
The bright-yellow and blue flight suits donned by a trio of Russian cosmonauts as they boarded the International Space Station on Friday (March 18) appeared to be a sign of their support for Ukraine, whose flag is the same colors, some outsiders had said. Now, Russia has scoffed at that interpretation.
The three cosmonauts, Oleg Artemyev, Denis Matveev and Sergey Korsakov, joined seven crewmates already onboard the ISS. On Saturday (March 19), the Russian space agency released a statement quoting Artemyev: "There is no need to look for any hidden signs or symbols in our uniform. A colour is simply a colour. It is not in any way connected to Ukraine. Otherwise, we would have to recognise its rights to the yellow sun in the blue sky," Artemyev said, as reported by The Guardian. "These days, even though we are in space, we are together with our president and our people!"
Even so, on Friday, Artemyev had explained the color choice with a different rationale, saying the team chose the bright yellow because there was so much of that material in storage, explaining "that’s why we had to wear yellow," The Guardian reported.
Russia claims it used deadly hypersonic weapons
Russian president Vladimir Putin claimed the country has deployed its newest Kinzhal hypersonic missiles for the first time in Ukraine on Friday (March 18) in an effort to destroy a weapons storage facility,
This is the first time that Russia has claimed to use such high-precision weapons in combat, according to the South China Morning Post.
"The Kinzhal aviation missile system with hypersonic aeroballistic missiles destroyed a large underground warehouse containing missiles and aviation ammunition in the village of Deliatyn in the Ivano-Frankivsk region," the Russian defence ministry said Saturday (March 19), as reported by Al Jazeera.
The Kinzhal weapon, which was unveiled and tested in March 2018, reportedly travels at 10 times the speed of sound. At the time, Putin, speaking on Russian television, indicated that this new hypersonic missile and cruise missile had "unlimited range" and could avoid adversaries' detection technologies.
Read more about the hypersonic missiles on Live Science.
Russian cosmonauts wear Ukraine colors on space station
Three Russian cosmonauts who arrived at the International Space Station on Friday (March 18) wore yellow and blue flight suits — the same colors as the Ukraine flag — when they entered the orbiting lab, according to The Associated Press.
The three cosmonauts, Oleg Artemyev, Denis Matveev and Sergey Korsakov, joined seven crewmates already onboard the ISS.
Whether their "fashion choice" was a sign of their support for Ukraine during the Russian invasion is unknown.
When the trio were able to speak with family on Earth, Artemyev was asked about the color choice. He responded: “It became our turn to pick a color. But in fact, we had accumulated a lot of yellow material so we needed to use it. So that’s why we had to wear yellow,” he said, as reported by the AP.
Regardless, former NASA astronauts who were watching the docking with the ISS noticed. In a tweet on Friday, former NASA astronaut Scott Kelly said, "Three Russian cosmonauts who just docked with the ISS arrive in Ukrainian yellow!" Kelly was onboard the space station with cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko from March 2015 to March 2016.
International Energy Agency warns of impending energy crisis
The International Energy Agency, an autonomous intergovernmental organization, warned that Russia's invasion of Ukraine is likely to create a global energy crisis, the likes of which we've never seen before, The New York Times reported. The agency, which was established after the 1973 oil crisis to help stabilize the global energy market, issued several recommendations to help nations reduce their dependence on oil.
"Reducing demand is a way of addressing the situation without just pumping more oil," said Fatih Birol, the agency’s executive director, according to the Times.
The agency's recommendations include reducing speed limits; reducing fares on public transportation; promoting the use of trains over airplanes, when possible; encouraging carpooling; instituting car-free days in cities; and cutting down on commuting by having people work from home three days a week. The agency also put forth several recommendations to be implemented in the long-term, such as establishing the necessary infrastructure to prioritize electric vehicles.
Race to deliver food to Ukraine; ExoMars mission cuts ties with Russia
—The World Food Programme (WFP) is urgently trying to deliver emergency food supplies to hardhit Ukrainian cities, including Kyiv, Kharkiv and Dnipro, The Guardian reported. These cities, the WFP said, are at risk of "medieval tactics of besiegement."
“We are concentrating right now on stocking up the cities that are in danger of being encircled. That’s the rush against time for us,” said Jakob Kern, emergency coordinator for WFP, as reported by The Guardian. The agency will try to get food into the porty city of Mariupol, where bombings have destroyed a hospital complex and more, as well as the encircled city of Sumy; aid workers plan to take advantage of any ceasefires for humanitarian aid, The Guardian said.
—The European Space Agency unanimously voted to suspend a joint Mars mission with Russia. The Council of the ESA said on Thursday (March 17) that due to the the tragedy that is unfolding in the Ukraine since the Russian invasion, the agency could no longer carry out "ongoing cooperation with Roscosmos on the ExoMars rover mission with a launch in 2022," referring to the Russian Space Agency and its role in the second part of the ExoMars program that involves sending a rover and a Russian surface platform to the Red Planet. Read more about the ExoMars delay at Live Science.
ESA suspends Russian partnership on Mars mission
The European Space Agency (ESA) will suspend its partnership with Russian space agency Roscosmos on a number of projects, including the ExoMars rover mission, which is scheduled to launch later this year, the ESA said in a statement.
ESA officials will implement a fast-track study to "define the available options for a way forward to implement the ExoMars rover mission," the agency said.
The ExoMars mission will hunt for evidence of potential past life on Mars. The mission was previously pushed back in 2020, due to pandemic-related issues.
US astronaut will ride Russian capsule home to Earth
U.S. astronaut Mark Vande Hei will return to Earth from the International Space Station (ISS) aboard a Russian space capsule alongside two Russian cosmonauts, despite earlier fears that he might get left behind amid tensions over Russia's invasion of Ukraine, BBC reported.
"I can tell you for sure Mark is coming home... We are in communication with our Russian colleagues. There's no fuzz on that," Joel Montalbano, NASA's International ISS program manager said.
Vande Hei, 55, has been in space for 355 days, setting a new U.S. record for most time spent in space. He and the two cosmonauts are expected to land in Kazakhstan on March 30.
Earlier this month, Dmitry Rogozin, chief of the Russian Space Agency Roscosmos, announced on state TV that Russia would halt rocket sales to the U.S. in response to sanctions against Russia.
Biden’s national security adviser warns Russia against use of chemical or biological weapons in Ukraine
Jake Sullivan, National Security Advisor to President Joe Biden, spoke with General Nikolay Patrushev, Secretary of the Russian Security Council, on Wednesday (March 16), according to a White House statement. During the call, Sullivan "warned General Patrushev about the consequences and implications of any possible Russian decision to use chemical or biological weapons in Ukraine," the statement reads.
U.S. officials have not said exactly why they think Russia might deploy chemical or biological weapons in Ukraine, The New York Times reported. But that said, Russia recently accused the U.S. of operating a biowarfare lab out of Ukraine, and "Russia has a track record of accusing the West of the very crimes that Russia itself is perpetrating," U.S. Department of State spokesperson Ned Price said in a recent statement. "These tactics are an obvious ploy by Russia to try to justify further premeditated, unprovoked, and unjustified attacks on Ukraine."
Satellite images show extensive destruction in Mariupol
New images captured by the U.S. private satellite company Maxar reveal horrific scenes of destruction in Mariupol, the southern port city in Ukraine where Russian forces have dropped about 100 bombs in the last 10 days. In a statement released March 13, the Mariupol local council said that 2,187 civilians have been killed in the bombings, although Oleksiy Arestovych, an advisor to the Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy, said that the number now exceeds 2,500.
Read the full story on Live Science.
Power lost at Chernobyl (again)
The defunct Chernobyl nuclear power plant has lost power again, less than 24 hours after the plant's electricity was restored on March 13. Ukrenergo, Ukraine's electrical grid operator, has demanded safe entry to the site for a repair crew to inspect and fix the high-voltage power lines that supply the plant's electricity.
Approximately 20,000 spent nuclear fuel units sit in the plant's cooling tanks, and without reliable power, the likelihood of the evaporation and discharge of nuclear material at the site may increase, Ukrainian officials have warned. But nuclear experts, including the United Nations' International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), have downplayed these concerns, saying that cutting off power to the Chernobyl power plant will not have a drastic impact on the facility's safety.
Read the full story on Live Science.
Pregnant woman from Mariupol hospital attack dies
A pregnant woman who was pulled out of the rubble of the bombed Ukrainian maternity hospital in Mariupol on March 9 has reportedly died; her baby also died, The Associated Press reported. AP photos of the woman on a stretcher stroking her bloodied belly and her face in shock was one of the "most brutal moments" in the now 19-day invasion of Ukraine, the AP reported.
When the woman was rushed to a nearby hospital, she reportedly realized her baby was dying and yelled out to the medics "Kill me now!" the AP said. The surgeon who treated her told the AP that her pelvis had been crushed and hip was detached from the attack. The baby was delivered via C-section, though it showed no signs of life.
Read more at The Associated Press.
Pharma company Bayer suspends ads, business in Russia
Bayer, one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world, is halting business in Russia.
"As a response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Bayer stopped all spending in Russia and Belarus that is not related to supplying essential products in health and agriculture," Bayer said in a statement today (March 14). The ban includes halting both advertising and promotional activities in Russia as well as any capital investment projects.
However, Bayer did not suspend delivery of their products to Russia, as some people had reportedly wanted: "Our position is that this senseless war has already taken many lives. As a Life Science company, we have an ethical obligation — in every country we operate in. Withholding essential health and agriculture products from the civilian populations — like cancer or cardiovascular treatments, health products for pregnant women and children as well as seeds to grow food — would only multiply the war's ongoing toll on human life," Bayer said.
Energy prices soar in EU after Russian sanctions
Energy prices skyrocket in the European Union, on the heels of sanctions against Russia for its invasion of Ukraine, according to news reports.
Nikolai Kobrinets, a Russian foreign ministry officer, said that the EU would pay at least three times more for their oil, gas and electricity, Reuters reported. "I believe the European Union would not benefit from this — we have more durable supplies and stronger nerves," Kobrinets told Interfax, a Russian news agency, as reported by Reuters.
In fact, Russia is currently urging India to invest even more into the country's oil and gas sector. "Russia's economy faces its deepest crisis since the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, as the West imposes severe sanctions over Moscow's invasion of Ukraine," Reuters reported.
Russia is one of the world's largest oil producers. This month, the International Energy Agency (IEA) put together a 10-point plan to help reduce the European Union’s reliance on Russia’s natural gas.
U.N. discusses baseless claims of U.S. bioweapons program in Ukraine, Russia adds 'bird army' to list of conspiracy theories
The U.N. Security Council convened on Friday (March 11) to discuss Russia's unsupported claims that the United States has been running a biological weapons program out of Ukraine.
The U.S. again denied the claims, instead accusing Russia of using the council meeting for "lying and spreading disinformation," the Associated Press reported.
U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield suggested that Russia had fabricated these claims to "justify its own violent attacks against the Ukrainian people," and that Russia was likely to "use chemical or biological agents for assassinations, as part of a staged or false-flag incident, or to support tactical military operations."
U.N. disarmament chief Izumi Nakamitsu agreed that there was no evidence of "any biological weapons programs" in Ukraine.
With its claims still being boosted by Chinese media as well as right-wing pundits in the U.S, Russia continued to push the story on Friday, adding the bizarre detail that the U.S. had trained an army of migratory birds to carry Ukrainian bioweapons across the border to drop on Russian targets, Vice reported.
WHO advises Ukraine labs to destroy high-threat pathogens
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommended that Ukrainian public health labs that handle infectious agents destroy any "high-threat pathogens" to prevent potential spills during the ongoing Russian invasion, the agency told Reuters on Thursday (March 10).
The WHO previously worked with Ukrainian public health labs to establish security protocols aimed at preventing the "accidental or deliberate" release of such pathogens, the agency told Reuters in an email. "As part of this work, the WHO has strongly recommended to the Ministry of Health in Ukraine and other responsible bodies to destroy high-threat pathogens to prevent any potential spills," the email read.
The agency also advised all affected parties "to reach out for technical assistance as needed," regarding the safe and secure disposal of any pathogens.
Read the full story on Live Science.
China boosts unsupported Russian claim of Ukraine bioweapons labs
China has joined Russia in spreading unsupported claims that the United States has been funding biological weapons’ labs in Ukraine.
The U.S. denies the claims, and the UN says it has not received any information to back them up. Even so, both China and Russia insist that the rumors are true, and that the U.S. may be gearing up to use them on Ukrainian citizens, the Associated Press reports.
"This Russian military operation has uncovered the secret of the U.S. labs in Ukraine, and this is not something that can be dealt with in a perfunctory manner," Zhao Lijian, a spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign ministry, said Thursday (March 10). "It is not something they can muddle through by saying that China's statement and Russia's finding are disinformation, and are absurd and ridiculous."
The claims have since been picked up by far-right groups and media in the U.S., but U.S. state department officials say the allegations are a disinformation operation.
"The Russian accusations are absurd. They're laughable. And you know, in the words of my Irish Catholic grandfather, a bunch of malarkey. There's nothing to it. It's classic Russian propaganda," John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, said in a news briefing on Wednesday (March 9).
"Unlike Russia, which does have chemical weapons and has used them, and does do biological weapons research and has for years, Ukraine has neither," Burns, the director of the CIA and a former U.S. ambassador to Moscow, said in a senate hearing on Thursday. "And when you couple that with their demonstrated willingness to create false flag operations and try to create the impression that somehow Ukrainians are responsible for this, that should give us all pretty serious reason for concern about their propaganda."
The U.N. Security Council is set to discuss Moscow’s claim at a meeting today (March 11).
Death toll rises from Mariupol hospital bombing
At least three people, including a 6-year-old child, were killed in a Russian airstrike on a hospital complex in the Ukrainian city of Mariupol yesterday, city officials said on Thursday (March 10). At least 17 other civilians were wounded in the attack, which destroyed the hospital's maternity and children's wards, deputy mayor Sergiy Orlov told reporters.
Russian forces continue to bomb the city for the eighth day in a row, the New York Times reported. The city is home to some 430,000 people.
Read the full story on Live Science.
Chernobyl safe after power loss
The UN's atomic watchdog has said that the cutting off of power to the Chernobyl power plant will not have a drastic impact on the facility's safety.
The Chernobyl nuclear facility was taken on the first day of the invasion (Feb. 24). After heavy fighting, Russian forces captured the defunct plant and took its roughly 210 staff hostage. An announcement made yesterday (March 9) by Ukraine's state energy company said that the plant has been disconnected from the electrical grid, leaving its roughly 20,000 spent nuclear fuel units held in cooling tanks without active cooling, Live Science previously reported.
This led to concerns that the defunct Chernobyl reactor's spent fuel would overheat and leak from containment. But the IAEA said in a tweet that while the development "violates (a) key safety pillar," in this case it saw "no critical impact on safety."
The UN agency said that "the heat load of spent fuel storage pool and volume of cooling water at #Chornobyl Nuclear Power Plant" were "sufficient for effective heat removal without need for electrical supply."
The seven pillars of nuclear safety are seven important regulatory conditions set out by the IAEA for nuclear facilities. Among them are the requirements to maintain the physical integrity of nuclear facilities; ensure that staff are not under coercion or duress; and guarantee a constant supply of electricity to facilities.
Ukraine's state energy company has announced that "there is no possibility to restore the lines" at Chernobyl and that the site's security systems had also lost power.
Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko, a key Russian ally, has instructed Belarusian specialists to restore the Chernobyl plant's power supply, according to the state-owned Belarusian news agency BelTA.
IAEA loses contact with Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant
The Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Ukraine was overtaken by Russian forces last week, and now, the plant's communication lines have been cut, the United Nations' (UN) atomic watchdog has announced.
That means that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is no longer receiving data transmissions from the Zaporizhzhia plant or the defunct Chernobyl power plant, whose communication lines had already been severed. Without a way to monitor how nuclear material is being handled at these sites, the IAEA cannot check that key safety regulations are being upheld or that material isn't being moved from its current location.
"The remote transmission of data from IAEA safeguards equipment located at nuclear sites around the world is an important component of our safeguards implementation, in Ukraine and globally," IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi said in a statement. "Such systems... enable us to monitor nuclear material and activities at these sites when our inspectors are not present."
Read the full story on Live Science.
'Genocide,' 'Apocalyptic' and 'Atrocity' used to describe situation in Mariupol
Images being released from Ukraine continue to look bleak. Much of Mariupol’s population of 400,000 is without power, heat and water, as well as no phone signal, for over a week, a situation that the country’s foreign minister Dmitryo Kuleba said is akin to Russia "holding 400,000 people hostage," The Guardian reported.
The city is being bombarded by continuous shelling, resulting in the deaths of at least 1,170 Mariupol’s residents (47 of these individual were buried March 9 in a mass grave), the city’s deputy mayor Sergei Orlov said, as reported by The Guardian. Orlov called the acts "medieval" and "pure genocide." He reportedly added, "The attack isn’t simply treacherous. It’s a war crime. They are attacking us with aviation, shells, multiple rocket launchers.”
Meanwhile, the Red Cross has described conditions in Mariupol "apocalyptic." And "catastrophic" is the term the deputy prime minister Iryna Vereshchuk used to describe what is happening in the port city, according to The Guardian. Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy also denounced the brutal attack in Mariupol, saying it is an "atrocity" and comparing it to the devastation unleashed by the Nazis, The Guardian said.
Russia claims it used thermobaric weapons: What that means.
The Russian forces have used thermobaric weapons — which pull in oxygen to generate a super-hot explosion — in Ukraine, according to the U.K. Ministry of Defence.
"The Russian MoD has confirmed the use of the TOS-1A weapon system in Ukraine. The TOS-1A uses thermobaric rockets, creating incendiary and blast effects," the U.K. Ministry of Defence tweeted. The MoD also included a video showing the Russian TOS-1 rocket launchers, which can spit out up to 30 thermobaric warheads atop rockets in quick succession, according to the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation.
Along with fuel air explosives, thermobaric warheads are a type of volumetric weapon that consists of a fuel container and two explosive charges, the Arms Control center explained. Once the weapon gets launched, the first explosive charge detonates and broadcasts fuel particles. Then, the second charge ignites those particles and oxygen in the surrounding air. The result? A high-pressure, high-temperature blast that can reverberate and can even generate a partial vacuum when released inside buildings and other enclosed spaces, the Arms Control center said.
Though international law allows for the use of thermobaric weapons against military targets, they are banned if they could harm civilians, The Hill reported. U.S. officials have said that Russia is escalating its tactics, killing hundreds of civilians (including kids), The Hill reported.
The Russian MoD has confirmed the use of the TOS-1A weapon system in Ukraine. The TOS-1A uses thermobaric rockets, creating incendiary and blast effects.Watch the video below for more information about this weapon and its devastating impact. 🇺🇦 #StandWithUkraine🇺🇦 pic.twitter.com/d8PLQ0PhQDMarch 9, 2022
Children's hospital bombed in Ukrainian city
A hospital complex that includes a children’s ward and maternity hospital in the Ukrainian city of Mariupol has been destroyed by Russian forces dropping bombs on the facility, CNN reports. Video of the building after being bombed shared by the city council of Mariupol shows a hospital in tatters, with scraps from walls and beds and equipment strewn or in piles across the floors.
"A maternity hospital in the city center, a children’s ward and department of internal medicine ... all these were destroyed during the Russian air strike on Mariupol. Just now," said Pavlo Kyrylenko, head of the Donetsk regional administration.
In terms of casualties, the police said that information “is being clarified,” CNN reported. Even so, preliminary information indicates that at least 17 people were injured in the Russian attack, according to CNN. Among those injured are staff and patients in the maternity ward, The New York Times said.
Though Russia and Ukraine had agreed on a cease-fire on Saturday (March 5), hours later fighting had resumed. Videos of the current strike also show sprays of shrapnel bursting through hospital windows. One of the resulting craters, this one in a courtyard between buildings, looked to be about 10 feet (3 meters) deep, according to the Times.
Read the full story on Live Science.
WHO provides health care aid to Ukraine and condemns Russian attacks on hospitals
Dr. Hans Henri P. Kluge, the World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Director for Europe, issued a statement on March 8 addressing health care provisions for civilians within and refugees beyond Ukraine.
Kluge notes that he's been working with Amin Awad, Assistant Secretary-General and United Nations Crisis Coordinator for Ukraine, to establish a system to safely convey humanitarian health supplies into Ukraine.
"So far, 2 shipments totalling 76 tonnes (36 + 40 tonnes) of trauma and emergency health supplies, as well as freezers, refrigerators, ice packs and cool boxes are in transit in Ukraine," the statement reads. "We have further shipments of 500 oxygen concentrators and more supplies are on their way." WHO teams have also been deployed to Hungary, Poland, the Republic of Moldova and Romania to assess the needs of incoming refugees and to help build up the capacity of local health care systems.
As the Russian invasion continues in Ukraine, so too does the COVID-19 pandemic. "Remarkably, Ukraine has maintained its COVID-19 surveillance and response system," the WHO statement reads. The country reported 731 COVID-19 deaths to the WHO last week, "and sadly this number will increase as oxygen shortages continue."
In addition to addressing the health status of Ukrainians, the WHO condemned Russian attacks on health care facilities and workers in the country.
"It should not need saying that health workers, hospitals and other medical facilities must never be a target at any time, including during crises and conflicts. To date, we have 16 confirmed reports of attacks on health in Ukraine, and more are being verified. WHO strongly condemns these attacks on health-care services."
Read the full WHO statement.
Ukraine's top climate scientist calls this a "fossil fuel war"
As Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine, Svitlana Krakovska, a senior scientist at the Ukrainian Hydrometeorological Institute, and a delegation of other Ukrainian scientists continued to attend UN-run virtual meetings to finalize the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report. Krakovska, who headed the Ukrainian delegation, told the IPCC chair that the group would "continue to work if we have an internet connection and no missiles over our heads," Bloomberg Green reported on Feb. 28.
Soon, however, members of the delegation had to abandon the enterprise to seek safety in air raid shelters, or to flee Ukraine altogether, The Guardian reported on Wednesday (March 9). Krakovska sheltered in her home in Kyiv with her family as missiles struck nearby buildings.
At this time, "I started to think about the parallels between climate change and this war and it’s clear that the roots of both these threats to humanity are found in fossil fuels," Krakovska told The Guardian.
"Burning oil, gas and coal is causing warming and impacts we need to adapt to. And Russia sells these resources and uses the money to buy weapons," she said. "Other countries are dependent upon these fossil fuels, they don’t make themselves free of them. This is a fossil fuel war. It’s clear we cannot continue to live this way, it will destroy our civilization."
This statement follows an executive order from President Joe Biden banning the importation of Russian oil, gas and coal into the U.S., as well as an announcement from the European Union that its member states will be drastically reducing their dependence on Russian fossil fuels.
Chernobyl nuclear plant just went dark
The site of the worst nuclear disaster in history, Chernobyl’s nuclear power plant has gone dark, as Russian forces occupy the defunct plant in Ukraine. The plant along with the facilities in the Chernobyl exclusion zone have no electricity, Ukraine’s state energy company announced.
With now power, the planet’s estimated 20,000 spent nuclear fuel units, which are stored in cooling tanks, will no longer receive cooling. The fear is that the spent nuclear fuel could discharge a dangerous dose of radioactivity to the plant’s personnel, Ukrainian officials warned. Even so, nuclear energy experts caution that because the fuel rods are 22 years old, they are not as hot as they were initially and so this discharge is unlikely.
Facility staff are responsible for decommissioning the site and ensuring the safe disposal of the radioactive material inside the plant’s defunct reactors. However, since Russian forces seized Chernobyl, that work has been on hold.
"I'm deeply concerned about the difficult and stressful situation facing staff at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant and the potential risks this entails for nuclear safety," IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi said in the statement. "I call on the forces in effective control of the site to urgently facilitate the safe rotation of personnel there."
Read the full story on Live Science.
Pentagon turns down Poland offer of Soviet-era fighter jets
NATO member Poland said Tuesday (March 8) that the country was ready to deliver Mikoyan MiG-29 fighter jets designed in the Soviet Union to Ramstein Air Base for use by the U.S. The Defense Department, however, turned down the offer.
The move is thought to be a way for Poland to avoid any retaliation for directly helping Ukraine fight against Russian invaders. However, the Pentagon responded that the delivering the Soviet-era warplanes from the Air Base in southwestern Germany into risky airspace is just not a "tenable" proposal. According to The Guardian, Poland is thought to have around 28 of these fighter aircraft.
"The prospect of fighter jets 'at the disposal of the Government of the United States of America' departing from a U.S./NATO base in Germany to fly into airspace that is contested with Russia over Ukraine raises serious concerns for the entire NATO alliance," John F. Kirby, Pentagon press secretary, said in a statement today. "It is simply not clear to us that there is a substantive rationale for it. We will continue to consult with Poland and our other NATO allies about this issue and the difficult logistical challenges it presents, but we do not believe Poland's proposal is a tenable one."
The proposal from Poland comes after news that although Russian forces are seeing great losses — and not the easy win the Kremlin had anticipated — the country under Vladimir Putin will push on, The New York Times reported. According to the Times, top intelligence officials said that Putin was "surprised and unsettled by the problems that have hampered his military in Ukraine."
Even so, the Ukraine forces can't hold onto Kyiv forever. "With supplies being cut off, it will become somewhat desperate in, I would say, 10 days to two weeks," Lt. Gen. Scott D. Berrier, the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, told the Times.
Biden to sign order regulating cryptocurrency
U.S. sanctions on Russia, including severe limits on the country's central bank, could deliver a crushing blow to the Kremlin and its ongoing invasion of Ukraine, according to news reports. And now, in order to prevent Russia from skirting these restrictions with cryptocurrency, U.S. President Joe Biden is expected to sign an executive order this week to regulate the digital currency.
According to Reuters, Biden could sign the order on Wednesday (March 9) for "a wide-ranging oversight of the cryptocurrency market." The executive order is also a response to moves by China and others to create their own cryptocurrencies, Reuters reported.
"Although we have not seen widespread evasion of our sanctions using methods such as cryptocurrency, prompt reporting of suspicious activity contributes to our national security and our efforts to support Ukraine and its people," acting Director Him Das said, as reported by The Hill.
Though Bitcoin is the most well-known cryptocurrency, thousands of these digital currencies exist and as of June 2021, about 220 million Americans used this completely virtual "cash," according to Crypto.com.
Those familiar with Biden's intentions say the executive order will task the State Department with ensuring that U.S. crypto laws align with those of allies, while mandating the the Financial Stability Oversight Council to investigate any related financial concerns and the Justice Department to look into the need for a new law to create a new currency, The Hill reported.
U.S. bans Russian oil; EU will reduce reliance on Russian fuel
On Tuesday (March 8), President Joe Biden announced that the U.S. is banning the importation of Russian oil, gas and coal and prohibiting any new U.S. investment in Russia's energy sector or in foreign companies that invest in the country's energy production. The U.S. receives less than 10% of its energy resources from Russia, but the ban is still expected to impact the price of gas and other petroleum products in the States, The New York Times reported.
Also on Tuesday, the European Commission shared two plans to reduce the European Union's (EU) dependence on Russian gas by two-thirds this year and to render EU-affiliated countries "independent" of Russian fossil fuels before 2030. Some of the EU's gas and liquefied natural gas will now be sourced from the U.S. and Qatar, rather than Russia, and the EU will also increase its use of biomethane and hydrogen in the coming years. In addition, the EU plans to rapidly increase its investment in renewable energy sources, including wind and solar power, Reuters reported.
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