An exodus from Sudan
Just after midnight yesterday, American diplomats were evacuated by helicopter from Khartoum, Sudan’s besieged capital city. That departure then turned into a full-fledged exodus of foreign officials, diplomats and citizens of other nations as the battle raged around them. Sudan, long viewed as strategically important, has been in the grip of intense fighting for over a week.
Some Sudanese, feeling angry and abandoned, lashed out at the Western negotiators they blame for the collapse of political talks that were supposed to lead to civilian rule — but which instead became a flashpoint for the two generals now battling for power. There are concerns that the exit of foreign diplomats might allow an even more brutal turn in the nation’s affairs.
At least 400 people have been killed in the clashes and 3,500 injured, according to the U.N., and two-thirds of Sudan’s major hospitals have closed. As prices soar, food is scarce and likely to become scarcer still; over the weekend, the country’s largest flour mill was destroyed in fighting. Even supplies of cash are running low.
Details: A U.N. convoy snaked its way out of Khartoum, starting a 525-mile drive to Port Sudan on the Red Sea, while British and French diplomats were escorted to an airfield where military cargo planes were waiting. Other groups headed for Qadarif, a small town near the border with Ethiopia, and a boat chartered by Saudi Arabia carried its fleeing diplomats across the Red Sea.
Fighting intensifies near Kherson
Russian troops are forcibly relocating people from occupied areas near the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson, a Ukrainian official said yesterday, suggesting it could indicate that Moscow’s forces might be preparing to withdraw further from that area ahead of an anticipated Ukrainian counteroffensive.
The assertions could not be independently verified, and there was no immediate comment from the Russian authorities. However, at other points in the war, evacuations from Russian-occupied areas have precipitated an eventual pullback of Russian forces in the face of Ukrainian advances. And in Moscow’s view, Kherson is one of several Ukrainian regions that are now legally part of Russia.
Russian forces retreated from Kherson in November and decamped to just across the Dnipro River, from where they have continued to launch attacks on the city.
Context: Citing Russian military bloggers, analysts from the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based research group, said in a report that Ukrainian forces had been attacking Russian troops dug into the riverbanks a mile or so outside Kherson. Residents of the city said that the Ukrainian military had been increasingly active along the river.
In other news from the war:
Divisions on Memorial Day in Israel
Today is Memorial Day in Israel, when thousands of families who have lost loved ones to wars and terrorist attacks gather to remember the dead. This year, the commemoration was to have been followed by a jubilant celebration of the 75th anniversary of the country’s founding. But Israel is deeply divided as never before, and what should have been a time of national contemplation and celebration is being overshadowed by protests and political chaos.
The minister overseeing the televised state ceremony for the 75th Independence Day celebration this week plans to air a prerecorded dress rehearsal in the event of a disruption by protesters. Yair Lapid, the leader of the parliamentary opposition, has announced that he will not attend.
Bereaved families have pleaded with politicians to forgo the usual speeches that they deliver on Memorial Day at military cemeteries across the country, with some fearing angry outbursts at a time when Israelis are supposed to unite. And some families are incensed by the fact that Itamar Ben-Gvir, the far-right minister of national security who was rejected for military service on the grounds that his views were too extreme, is the government representative assigned to speak at their cemetery.
First person: “I’m not speaking for one side or another,” said Sigalit Bezaleli, who has worked as an administrator for decades at Israel’s main military cemetery. “Whoever wants to come and honor us is welcome. The cemeteries are open to all.” But, she added, “I want our politicians to make a gesture and not to speak.”
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Looking for darkness in the outback
Last week, I traveled to the huge and empty state of Western Australia to report on a total solar eclipse that was visible from only four places on land — including a tiny, remote town that welcomed some 20,000 astronomy enthusiasts.
A few days before the eclipse, my colleague and I drove a little way into the outback to go looking for stars in Western Australia’s pristine dark sky.
Most people live with some level of light pollution. A third of the Earth’s population cannot easily see the Milky Way, the galaxy in which we live, and for most residents of the E.U. and the U.S., what scientists know as “night” never really comes. But you don’t have to travel far in Western Australia to see your place in the universe.
After driving for 20 minutes in our rented pickup truck, we stopped at a scrubby patch of ground off the main highway. As my eyes adjusted to the dark, the Milky Way came gradually into view and more and more stars slid into sight. The three studs of Orion’s Belt sparkled like jewels. The Southern Cross reminded me where we were, down at the bottom of the Earth.
And then, out of nowhere, a shooting star.