Your Wednesday briefing: EU leaders visit Kyiv

Hello. We cover a visit by three European leaders to Ukraine, the ripple effects of China’s surge in Covid cases and a once perilous road to Afghanistan.

The Prime Ministers of the Czech Republic, Poland and Slovenia traveled by train to kyiv, the capital of Ukraine, on Tuesday to express the European Union’s support for Ukraine. Next week, President Biden will travel to Brussels to attend a special NATO meeting on the war.

Tuesday’s visit comes as fighting raged in the city. Explosions rocked Kyiv at dawn, killing at least four people, the mayor said. Follow live updates here.

Russia’s advance remains stalled on several fronts as Ukrainian forces repel attacks in parts of the east and south. But the Russian Defense Ministry claimed to have captured the entire Kherson region, after seizing the main city two weeks ago.

Ukrainian Resistance: The move may bolster Russia’s ability to push west toward Mykolaiv, a strategic port city where the morgue is already overflowing. Our correspondent and photographer reported from Mykolaiv a “refusal to succumb” by Ukrainian fighters and residents.

Regional Governor Vitaliy Kim predicted that any Russian effort to take Mykolaiv would lead to a bloody firefight. Residents piled tires and firebombs on every street corner. It would be apocalyptic, Kim said.

More updates:

Oil prices fell below $100 a barrel on Tuesday, the lowest prices in weeks, as a coronavirus outbreak in China threatened to slow the country’s economy and reduce global demand. Over the past week, crude oil prices have fallen more than 20%, reversing much of the surge that followed Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The global economic damage caused by rising Covid cases in China – and the government’s harsh response – could soon worsen. Numerous lockdowns and mitigation tactics have disrupted the production of goods such as cars, iPhone circuit boards and computer cables.

The context: China’s tough measures come as some other countries in the Asia-Pacific region ease pandemic rules, despite some of the world’s steepest spikes in Covid cases.

Here are the latest pandemic updates and maps.

In other developments:

Before the Taliban took control of Afghanistan, traveling along the road from Kabul to Kandahar was dangerous. Gunfire, roadside bombs, extortion and death were once commonplace.

Not anymore. The highway between the country’s two largest cities, still strewn with destroyed vehicles and bullet-riddled houses, has come back to life. Winegrowers dig their fields in what was one of the most violent provinces of the war. Young men are laughing and playing volleyball near the road.

But the cost of US sanctions is evident along the highway, which is still half-paved and half-gnarled. In Ghazni, a town along the road, prices for items like cooking oil have soared. People are traveling to Pakistan for treatment. And outside Kabul, a 12-year-old boy has torn down old fences to make a chicken coop. “We are hungry,” he said.

As the world warms, Swiss glaciers are melting. A team of mapmakers race to correct ever-changing mountain maps – a task they often have to do by hand.

In March 2021, college basketball player Sedona Prince posted a TikTok video.

“This is our weight room,” she said, pointing to a sad pile of dumbbells at the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament. “Let me show you all the men’s weight room,” she said, surveying a state-of-the-art gymnasium for the men’s tournament, filled with machines and benches.

Prince’s video immediately went viral. It also led to a review of gender equity in college basketball and changes to the women’s event, including branding the tournament with the March Madness moniker. The NCAA had previously resisted such a move.

“Every budget line is compared and contrasted,” said Dan Gavitt, NCAA senior vice president for basketball. “Where there are differences, they are resolved in the name of fairness.”

Prince accomplished last March what generations before her could not: she showed the disparity between tournaments in an inexplicable way.

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