Your Friday Briefing – The New York Times

Fighting raged across eastern Ukraine — from the Kharkiv area in the north, where Ukrainian forces regained ground, to Mariupol in the south, where Russian forces sought to destroy the last pocket of resistance at the Azovstal steel plant and where about 200 civilians were holed up with fighters. Follow live updates from the war.

The ruined port city of Mariupol is a potent symbol for Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, as the home of the Azov regiment, whose origins in a far-right military group have lent a veneer of credibility to Putin’s claim of “denazifying” Ukraine. Russia also bombarded key points along the eastern front, launching missiles at the strategic city of Kramatorsk.

The Kremlin is determined to reach some kind of milestone, analysts say, by May 9, the day Russia commemorates the Soviet Union’s triumph over Nazi Germany. But it is difficult to evaluate how the actual fighting is going. The Russian advance appears to have been sluggish, while Ukraine is still holding strong despite suffering heavy injuries.

US intelligence: The Kremlin had a muted response on Thursday to a report in The Times that the US had helped Ukrainian forces locate and kill Russian generals. Russia was already “well aware” that NATO and its member countries were sharing intelligence with Ukraine, said a Kremlin spokesman.

Nearly 15 million more people died during the pandemic than would have in normal times, according to a panel of experts assembled by the WHO The figure lays bare how vast the undercount of victims — which had been reported at six million — has been around the world .

Most of the excess deaths were victims of Covid itself, the experts said, but some died because it was harder to get medical care for aids such as heart attacks. Much of the loss of life during the pandemic was concentrated in 2021. Overall deaths that year were roughly 18 percent higher — an extra 10 million people — than in a typical year.

The figures had been ready since January, but their release was stalled by objections from India, in which 4.7 million of the excess deaths occurred and which disputed the methodology for calculating how many of its citizens had died. The Indian government’s own figure through the end of 2021 is 481,080 deaths.

country by country: In Mexico, the excess death toll during the first two years of the pandemic was twice as high as the government’s official tally, the WHO found. In Egypt, excess deaths were roughly 12 times as great as the official toll. And in Pakistan, the figure was eight times as high.

Quotable: “It’s absolutely staggering what has happened with this pandemic, including our inability to accurately monitor it,” said Dr. Prabhat Jha, an epidemiologist who was a member of the WHO’s expert working group. “It shouldn’t happen in the 21st century.”

Senate Democrats hope to vote next week on a bill to enshrine abortion rights in federal law, acting quickly in the wake of a leaked Supreme Court draft decision overturning Roe v. wade. The legislation is all but certain to be blocked by Republicans, falling short of the 60 votes needed to advance past a filibuster.

The legislation, even as it might send a political message before the midterm elections, appears to lack even the simple majority it would need to pass the 50-50 Senate, given that Joe Manchin, the centrist Democratic senator from West Virginia who oppose abortion rights , voted against bringing up a nearly identical measure in February.

The vote will at least give Democrats a chance to show their progressive core supporters that they are trying to codify Roe. They hope the action will also stoke a backlash against Republicans by swing voters, including college-educated suburban women who may be alienated by the GOP’s opposition to abortion rights.

With vivid colors, ear-worm songs and simple animation, the cartoon series “CoComelon” has mastered the art of entrancing infants. The show is the second-largest channel on YouTube and holds a firm spot on Netflix’s top 10.

The show is a production of Moonbug Entertainment, a London company that produces several of the world’s most popular online kids’ shows.

Moonbug treats children’s shows like a science, where every aesthetic choice or potential plot point is data-driven and rigorously tested with its target audience. Should the music be louder or more mellow? Should the bus be yellow or red? The answer is yellow — infants are apparently drawn to yellow buses, as well as minor injuries and stuff covered in dirt.

“The trifecta for a kid would be a dirty yellow bus that has a boo-boo,” a Moonbug exec said during a company story session. “Broken fender, broken wheel, little grimace on its face.”

Read more from inside one of the pitch sessions for a kids’ show juggernaut.

That’s it for today’s briefing. Have a wonderful weekend, and see you next week. — Natasha

PS Jeffrey Gettleman, previously our South Asia bureau chief, takes on a new role in London a roving global correspondent.

The latest episode of “The Daily” is on a post-Roe America.

Sanam Yar wrote today’s Arts and Ideas. You can reach Natasha and the team at

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