Your Monday Briefing: Inside Ukraine’s Trenches

Ukrainian soldiers are getting ready for a spring offensive, and the country is under pressure to show some measure of success in bolstering morale for soldiers and civilians, shoring up Western support and reclaiming stolen territory.

With fighting in the eastern Donbas region settling into a bloody stalemate, a patch of the Zaporizhzhia region of southeastern Ukraine could prove to be the next big theater, a focal point of the long-awaited counteroffensive. The Times spent two weeks near the front lines there, documenting life in the trenches.

The fighting there is intensely personal. My colleagues spent time with the 110th Territorial Defense Brigade, and most of its soldiers come from areas now occupied by Russia. “We just want to kick them off our land, that’s it,” a 32-year-old former teacher said. “We’ll have nowhere to return to if we don’t stop this.”

Strategy: Zaporizhzhia makes up the heart of a southern land bridge, which links Russian territory to the occupied Crimean Peninsula. A military push by Ukraine there makes sense, military officials and experts say: If Ukraine punched south through the Russian lines, it could split Russia’s forces and sever important supply lines.

Obstacles: Ukraine has to overcome heavily armed defensive lines that Russian troops have spent the past 10 months reinforcing. After 14 months of nonstop fighting, Ukrainian soldiers are exhausted, and Ukraine’s artillery supplies are dwindling. American officials say the counteroffensive is unlikely to significantly shift the momentum.

Other updates:

Two weeks of fighting in Sudan have reignited violence in Darfur, a region that suffered a two-decade genocidal conflict that killed as many as 300,000 people. Experts fear that a security vacuum, which militias and armed tribes have exploited, could lead to a civil war.

Armed groups have looted health care facilities and burned households. Marketplaces have gone up in flames. Civilians are arming themselves against militias as well as the Rapid Support Forces, the paramilitary group fighting the Sudanese Army.

Background: The recent instability dates back to the early 2000s, when the military and the former dictator allied with Arab fighters, “the Janjaweed,” to crush mostly non-Arab groups of rebels. A widespread campaign of rape, murder and ethnic cleansing followed. In the 2010s, the Janjaweed became the R.S.F., which is now fighting its former ally, the Sudanese military.

In the capital: A total collapse of the health care system could be days away, the Sudan Doctors’ Trade Union warned.

No truce: A cease-fire scheduled to end last night fell apart on Saturday as the capital, Khartoum, came under artillery fire and airstrikes.

Last week, President Yoon Suk Yeol received a warm welcome from President Biden in Washington, but back home he’s facing a different tune. The South Korean public has deep misgivings about Yoon’s foreign policy, which aligns his country more closely with the U.S. and Japan.

Many also doubt the strength of the “Washington Declaration,” the new nuclear agreement with the U.S. that codified an American commitment to defend South Korea with nuclear weapons, if North Korea were to launch such an attack first. In return, the South disavowed any effort to pursue its own nuclear arsenal.

Some have called the agreement pragmatic. But critics have felt that Yoon gave away too much for too little. ​To such skeptical South Koreans, Washington’s ​promise “just amounts to rhetoric, however you package it,” a Seoul-based researcher said.

Decades ago, stretch limos were a symbol of affluence, used almost exclusively by the rich and famous. Over time, they became more of a common luxury, booked for children’s birthday parties or by teenagers heading to the prom.

These days, thanks to ride-sharing apps, the Great Recession and new regulations, hardly anyone appears to be riding one anymore.

Countless Chinese are riding an explosive wave of live shopping, which blends entertainment with consumerism and has transformed the way people buy and sell. Star sellers can amass huge followings and eye-popping fortunes through the format, which mixes influencer culture with live online videos.

The most famous streamers have become celebrities, like Li Jiaqi, whose prowess at trying on and pitching makeup products earned him the nickname “lipstick king.”

Live shopping emerged in China several years ago, then became ubiquitous during the coronavirus pandemic. Now nearly half of China’s one billion internet users have tried live shopping, even as it remains largely unfamiliar in the West. (Last year, an estimated $500 billion in goods were sold via livestream on apps like Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok, or Kuaishou.)

But the government is trying to get tighter control of e-commerce as part of a broader crackdown on the tech sector. Some celebrity hosts, who have run afoul of government scrutiny, have abruptly disappeared from view.

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