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17 March

In the headlines

Ukrainian officials have accused Russia of bombing a theatre where around 1,000 civilians were sheltering. The word “children” was written in large Russian letters on the pavement outside. Boris Johnson “walked away empty-handed” from his meetings with Saudi Arabia and the UAE yesterday, says The Daily Telegraph. The PM had hoped to persuade the oil producers to ramp up exports as a means of weaning the West off Russian oil. Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been reunited with her family in the UK after six years under lock and key in Iran. Her husband Richard’s sister tells the BBC their seven-year-old daughter Gabriella last night “slept in between Richard and Nazanin for the first time in six years”.


Ukraine war

The mass exodus from Russia

No one knows how many people have fled Russia in the last two weeks, says Mikhail Viktorovich Zygar in Der Spiegel, but it’s definitely in the “hundreds of thousands”. In “perhaps the least visible exodus in history”, Russia’s middle classes are fleeing the country however they can. At least 20,000 have gone to Georgian capital Tbilisi, where disgruntled locals have launched a petition to introduce new visa requirements. With European airspace closed to Russian aircraft, ticket prices for flights from Moscow to countries such as Turkey, Azerbaijan and Mongolia have increased almost tenfold.


Laughter as a weapon

Plenty of politicians have started their life as actors, says Adam Gopnik in The New Yorker. But Ukraine’s President Zelensky is more unusual – he was a clown. Before his 2019 election win he was known for “little else except his clowning”: his claim to fame was playing a bumbling politician in a Ukrainian sitcom. His opponents made jibes, but Zelensky embraced his comic capabilities. In one campaign video he sported a large (digital) red nose. “They called me a clown,” he said. “I am a clown, and I am very proud of it.” When asked in an interview if he could make Vladimir Putin laugh, he said of course he could, adding: “Laughter is a weapon that is fatal to men of marble.”

Inside politics

Russia has imposed sanctions on Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton and various other Washington bigwigs – but they’re not taking it very seriously, says The Daily Telegraph. Clinton wrote a short, sarcastic acceptance speech on Twitter, thanking the “Russian Academy for this Lifetime Achievement Award”, while White House press secretary Jen Psaki said “none of us are planning tourist trips to Russia”. And since Joe Biden’s full name is Joseph Robinette Biden Jr, and Russian sanction documents omitted the “junior”, Psaki added, “they may have sanctioned his dad, may he rest in peace”.


Climate change is making hailstones bigger, says BBC Future. Hail damage in the US now averages more than $10bn a year, and in the last three years stones as large as 16cm have been spotted in Texas, Colorado and Alabama. It’s because air moisture levels are rising, which encourages hailstone growth. At this rate, says meteorologist Matthew Kumjian, we could soon be looking at hailstones the size of bowling balls.


It’s a giant QR code created by more than 400 drones above the city of Austin, Texas. People on the ground who scanned the code with their phones were taken to a trailer for Halo, a new sci-fi series. But not everyone was impressed. One local complained that adverts were now “literally invading the night sky”.


Spies have one theory for why Putin has invaded Ukraine, says the Daily Star: he’s “pumped up on steroids” to treat a deadly cancer. Senior figures in the Five Eyes intelligence alliance reckon the Russian president is suffering from a stonking case of “roid rage”. It would explain Putin’s puffy face (a common side effect from steroids) and the “identifiable change in his decision making”.


Britain is the new Hollywood, says The New York Times. Last year a record £5.6bn was spent on film and high-end TV production in the UK – nearly 30% more than the previous high in 2019. The owner of Hollywood’s legendary Sunset Studios is spending £700m on a 21-soundstage facility just north of London, its first facility outside Los Angeles; new blockbuster The Batman was filmed in Liverpool. Studios are lured here by the glut of experienced workers “and, critically, generous tax breaks”.


quoted 17.3

“The greatest mistake you can make in life is to be continually fearing that you will make one.”

Elbert Hubbard