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Your Wednesday Briefing: Ukraine’s Strategic Dilemma

Good morning. We’re covering Ukraine’s strategic dilemma in the east, Israel’s grinding political crisis and new details about a deadly fire in Bangladesh.

As Ukraine’s army fights to hold defensive positions in the Donbas region in the face of an unrelenting Russian bombardment, its military leaders face an impossible choice.

On Monday, President Volodymyr Zelensky called Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk “dead cities,” nearly empty of civilians. Withdrawing forces from frontline cities would save lives: Moscow has surrounded Sievierodonetsk from three sides.

But Sievierodonetsk is Ukraine’s last stand in the entire Luhansk region, which is part of the Donbas. And Zelensky said that Russia could launch “constant missile strikes on the center of Ukraine” if it took control of the Donbas. That could make future attempts to retake territory even more costly. Here are live updates.

Toll: Ukraine said that more than 40,000 of its civilians have been killed or wounded since the war began and that roughly three million live under Russian occupation.

Mariupol: The fate of the Russian-occupied city is close to mind for Ukrainian leaders. After vowing to fight, around 2,500 fighters eventually had to surrender to Russian custody. Dozens died. Now, sewage systems are not working, dead bodies are rotting in the streets and tens of thousands lack access to clean water.

Artillery: Powerful Western weapons systems may already be having an effect in the Black Sea: Ukraine’s navy said that Russian warships had pulled back more than 70 miles from the coast after Harpoon anti-ship missile systems arrived from Denmark.

The Israeli Parliament voted against applying Israeli civilian law to Israeli settlers in the occupied West Bank, a move that could topple the fragile coalition government.

The decision on Monday undermined the two-tier legal system that governs the 61 percent of the West Bank that falls under direct Israeli control. There, Israelis live under civilian law, while Palestinians generally live under military law.

Israel first enforced the two-tier system after its 1967 occupation of the West Bank, and lawmakers have easily extended it every half decade since. The system is at the heart of accusations that Israel operates an apartheidlike system in the West Bank.

Details: The vote failed because of dissent from leftist and Arab lawmakers in the coalition — as well as right-wing opposition lawmakers who support Benjamin Netanyahu, the former prime minister who is on trial for corruption, and see an opportunity to break apart the current government.

Analysis: If some lawmakers do not change course by the end of June, the move could topple Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s government. Analysts say a Netanyahu government would be one of the most right-wing in Israeli history.

What’s next: Officials and legal experts said that a failure to extend the legislation would create “chaos” and upend daily life in the West Bank.

Firefighters did not know that there were chemical drums at a shipping container depot in Bangladesh when they responded to a fire over the weekend, an official said.

The chemicals set off a series of powerful explosions. Nine firefighters were among at least 41 people killed. Hundreds of other people suffered burns. The depot held clothing ready for export and drums filled with hydrogen peroxide, which is often used to bleach and dye fabric.

“When our first team arrived here to douse the fire, the authority did not tell them about the chemical inside,” a national fire department official said. “If they had said so earlier, there would not have been so many deaths.”

Background: Bangladesh has endured several mass-casualty fires and industrial disasters in recent years, many connected to its garment factories, which account for 80 percent of the country’s exports.

Industry: Human rights and labor organizations have long expressed concern about working conditions and safety measures in garment factories.

The Monument of Heroes, a museum in the Philippines, is dedicated to preserving the bitter memory of the Marcos regime, when tens of thousands of political prisoners were tortured and detained. Organizers are now racing to preserve documents before the dictator’s son takes office on June 30.

By some measures, the book business is doing better than ever. Last year, readers bought nearly 827 million print books, an increase of roughly 10 percent over 2020, and a record since NPD BookScan began tracking two decades ago.

But publishing has an intractable problem: As book buyers have migrated online, it has gotten harder to sell books by new or lesser known authors.

Several apps have tried to reproduce the serendipity of walking into a bookstore and thumbing through the shelves. A new app, Tertulia, which debuted this week, is trying a different approach.

Instead of relying on surveys or trying to hype up older titles, Tertulia uses a mix of artificial intelligence and human curation to distill online chatter about books and point readers to the ones that are driving discussions. It’s an effort to replicate the word-of-mouth recommendations that once drove sales in brick-and-mortar stores.

“If Tertulia can bring up the average discourse about books,” said the essayist and novelist Sloane Crosley, who test drove the app, “long may they reign.”



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