From the Middle Ages to today, a new book offers a glimpse into the inner sanctums of artists through the centuries. Clare Dowdy takes a look.
For centuries, the process of making art has been a source of fascination for the public, and for artists themselves. Over the years, artists at work have been depicted on everything from the pages of books to Ancient Greek urns, as well as in paintings and photographs. Such images shed light on the role and status of the artist, the techniques and rituals of their era, the evolving attitudes to sitters and visitors, and the changing creative environments.
In The Artist’s Studio: A Cultural History, art historian James Hall delves into the myths and realities of the creative process, as they are portrayed in images of artists’ and artisans’ workplaces over the ages. Here are 10 of the most revealing images Hall features in his new book.
A Goldsmith in his Shop, 1449, by Petrus Christus (Credit: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York/ Robert Lehman Collection, 1975)
A Goldsmith in his Shop, 1449
In the 15th Century, goldsmiths enjoyed elevated status because they were dealing with precious metals. It was crucial that they were trustworthy. To this end, goldsmiths had to work in public, with their scales positioned at the front of their shop to prove they weren’t using false weights. The goldsmith in the painting by Petrus Christus is weighing a ring to price it up, and his weights and measures are in full view. “This picture is all about an openness – hence the goldsmith’s wide, clear eyes. The clients are at his shoulder, and the convex mirror increases light levels in the room, and magnifies items for the goldsmith working on a small scale,” Hall tells BBC Culture.
The artist is emphasising that the ideal goldsmith has perfect vision. “And the painting is testament to Christus’s own perfect vision, as the detail – like the vases and items on the shelf – is extraordinary,” Hall adds.
A Sculptor at Work, c1503-10, by unknown Florentine artist, from Cristoforo Landino’s edition of Dante’s Divine Comedy (Credit: Biblioteca Vallicelliana, Rome)
A Sculptor at Work, c 1503-10
A marginal illustration in Cristoforo Landino’s edition of Dante’s Divine Comedy, 1481, is the work of an unknown Florentine artist. Hall spotted this drawing within the pages of the book, and is convinced it is a depiction of Michelangelo at work on a huge head and holding a mallet. “The sculptor, hitherto unrecognised, can only be Michelangelo during or after his triumphant achievement carving the David,”Hall writes.
This depiction of Michelangelo repudiates Leonardo’s idea that making art should be a comfortable and refined activity, according to Hall. Hence the physical force on display with the raised mallet, and the workman’s utilitarian singlet. The artist is finishing off the mouth of this colossal figure, which is symbolic because, “One of the main forms of praise for an artwork was that it was a speaking likeness,” Hall explains, “meaning it looked as if it was about to speak.”
The Picture Contest (Eawase) from the Tale of Genji, 1509–10, by Tosa Mitsunobu (Credit: Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M Sackler Museum/ the Hofer Collection of the Arts of Asia)
The Picture Contest, 1509-10
There are very few depictions from the Far East of artists at work, because as a profession it did not have high social status. But there are many depictions of picture contests (eawase), when artists made paintings to be judged against each other. There’s a famous eawase in The Tale of the Genji (c 1000CE) by Murasaki Shikibu, depicted in 1509-10 by artist Tosa Mitsunobu. Hall explains that Genji, the illegitimate son of the former Japanese emperor, is an accomplished painter and calligrapher, as is the current emperor. “In the grand finale of the competition, Genji submits his own autobiographical paintings, which have been made with spontaneity and emotion,” Hall writes. “They reduce male and female courtiers to tears.”
Apelles Painting Campaspe, c 1630, by Willem van Haecht (Credit: The Mauritshuis, The Hague)
Apelles Painting Campaspe, c 1630
The home studio depicted here by Willem van Haecht is based on Peter Paul Rubens’ set-up. The Flemish artist had a purpose-built studio block and garden in Antwerp, which became a tourist attraction. Other artists followed suit, building up art collections that they displayed in an organised way. “They liked to have these kinds of symmetries to organise a disparate collection of paintings, and sometimes they cut them down to fit the space,” says Hall.
This is one of a new type of portrayal that showed idealised galleries, studios and workspaces, thronged with visitors. Apelles, court painter to Alexander the Great, is portrayed here as the red-headed Rubens. He’s painting Campaspe, the mistress of Alexander the Great, who’s standing behind the artist. “During the sittings Apelles fell in love with her,” Hall explains.
Las Meninas, 1656, by Diego Velázquez (Credit: Museo del Prado, Madrid)
Las Meninas, 1656
According to Hall, this painting by Diego Velázquez is a fairly accurate depiction of the artist’s own studio, in the former apartments of the deceased crown prince Balthasar Carlos in the royal palace, the Alcázar. The viewer can spy King Philip IV of Spain and his second wife, Mariana of Austria, reflected in the mirror behind their court painter. Its large size and ebony frame mean this mirror is probably the most expensive item on show, barring the silver-threaded silk dress of the five-year-old Infanta Margarita María. “Velázquez owned 10 mirrors, which suggests both fascination [with them] and wealth,” writes Hall.
The Art of Painting, 1666–8, by Johannes Vermeer (Credit: Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna)
The Art of Painting, 1666–8
Women became more frequent visitors to artists’ studios around the time of this painting by Johannes Vermeer, and the spaces themselves became more “feminine in character”, Hall writes. On show in Vermeer’s The Art of Painting are patterned fabrics and clothes, a brass chandelier, a pretty draw-leaf table with turned legs, marble floor tiles, a hand-coloured map and walnut chairs bedecked in velvet, silk and lace. “Apart from the deluxe chandelier, most of these props appear in other pictures, so we can assume they were household items,” Hall writes. Though he adds that the tiles (costly and heavy) were never likely to be found in a studio, or on the first floor.
Meanwhile, the foppish artist sports a stylish slashed doublet, painter’s beret, voluminous breeches and velvet shoes. But the joke is on us, as Vermeer’s painter has few visible tools – no palette, spare brushes, bottles or pigment. And “no model could hold that pose for long”, says Hall. In reality, the artist would probably have made drawn studies, and dressed a mannequin.
Self-Portrait with Two Pupils, Marie Gabrielle Capet and Marie Marguerite Carreaux de Rosemond, 1785, by Adélaïde Labille-Guiard (Credit: Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York)
Self-Portrait with Two Pupils, 1785
This picture by French artist Adélaïde Labille-Guiard, depicting herself and two pupils, Marie Gabrielle Capet and Marie Marguerite Carraux de Rosemond, “almost epitomises Leonardo da Vinci’s desire that painting should be a relaxed effortless, social event”, says Hall, describing the image as “a sort of Leonardesque fantasy”. He points out the elaborate satin dress, on which not a drop of paint has splashed, and the extravagant (and delightfully impractical) hat.
The only concession to the authentic mess and effort of the studio is the canvass nailed to the wooden stretcher. In the background, you can just make out a portrait bust of Labille-Guiard’s father, “so it’s not entirely overturning the patriarchy, her father approved of what she did,” Hall says.
The German Painter,1840, by Carl Jacob Lindström (Credit: Nationalmuseum, Stockholm/ Photo Erik Cornelius/Nationalmuseum)
The German Painter, 1840
Painting outdoors first became popular in Italy in the 17th Century, when artists from Northern Europe embarked on sketching expeditions in the Roman countryside. In a series of four watercolours, Swedish watercolourist Carl Jacob Lindström satirises this trend. Each image lampoons a different nationality. Here it is the turn of the “Nazarene”, a group of early 19th-Century German Romantic painters who wanted to revive spirituality in art.
The German painter has a painting box, which holds all his painting materials, including a canvas or wooden panel, and is dressed in standard costume of the German Nazarene. “The funny thing is, Nazarenes were against oversophisticated art, and he’s come all the way into the countryside, to paint a single flower,” says Hall.
Rodin in his Pavilion Studio, c 1902, Eugène Druet (Credit: Musée Rodin, Paris)
Rodin in his Pavilion Studio, c 1902
The idea of the studio as a monk’s cell goes mainstream with French sculptor François Auguste René Rodin, as captured here by Eugène Druet, “This is in large measure because the sculptor’s studio is very severe, and has all these clay and plaster models, all the walls are painted white, he’s surrounded almost entirely by white plaster sculptures and fragments,” says Hall.
From the 1880s, Rodin’s studio – a 20-minute train ride from Paris at the Villa de Brillants in Meudon – became the most photographed of his era and, unusually for the time, a lot of the shots showed unfinished works.
Hiroshi Sugimoto in his Tokyo home studio (Credit: Yasutomo Ebisu)
Hiroshi Sugimoto in His Tokyo Home Studio, 2019
Japanese architect and photographer Hiroshi Sugimoto (born 1948) “has tried to steer a poetic course between modernist austerity and crafted variety in his Tokyo home studio,” Hall writes. The walls of the penthouse apartment are coated with white Japanese shikkui plaster – Sugimoto felt that was the best surface on which to view shadows. For Hall, the interior and balcony garden evoke a Japanese tea-house and tea garden – “It’s a minimalist monk’s parlour, with green tea.”
As a boy, Sugimoto learned carpentry, and now made and designed his own furniture, using old and new materials. In the hallway, the flooring comprises stone beams from old temples. Hall adds: “He’s trying to find a happy medium between a crafted space with warm, natural materials and nice wood grains, and the purity of the white space.”
On September 21, 1780, during the American Revolution, American General Benedict Arnold meets with British Major John Andre to discuss handing over West Point to the British, in return for the promise of a large sum of money and a high position in the British army. The plot was foiled and Arnold, a former American hero, became synonymous with the word “traitor.”
Battle of Quebec: When Benedict Arnold Tried to Invade Canada
The Revolutionary War officer-turned traitor had a brilliant strategy—except that everything went wrong.
Benedict Arnold is now known mostly as a notorious Revolutionary War traitor who secretly tried to sell out the fort at West Point in exchange for a payoff and a commission in the British Army. But except for a few unfortunate twists of fate, Arnold instead might have gone down in history as one of the war’s great heroes.
Patriot forces under Colonel Arnold and General Richard Montgomery attempted to capture the British-occupied city of Quebec and prompt the province of Quebec to join the rebellion against the British.
It was a visionary strategy, but it didn’t work out that way.
Arnold’s expedition turned into a disastrous defeat, one that nearly cost him his own life and helped stunt his career as an American officer. The botched mission started him on the road to disillusionment and treason. But Arnold’s plan itself actually wasn’t that bad of an idea.
Arnold Persuades George Washington They Needed Canada on Their Side
“The strategy itself was brilliant,” explains Willard Sterne Randall, a professor emeritus of history at Champlain College and author of the 1990 biography Benedict Arnold: Patriot and Traitor, as well as numerous other works on early American history. “Benedict Arnold was a brilliant strategist, but in this case, a terrible tactician.”
Arnold, who before the war had traded with Canadians and still had contacts there, first approached George Washington in the Spring of 1775 to propose an invasion of Canada, according to Joyce Lee Malcolm’s bookThe Tragedy of Benedict Arnold. Arnold argued that seizing Quebec had huge potential benefits. In addition to depriving the British of a potential staging area for attacking the 13 colonies from the north, Americans envisioned that French Canadians might seize the opportunity to rise up against the British and join in the fight for independence.
In a June 1775 letter to the Continental Congress, Arnold also wrote that taking Quebec would deprive the British of the lucrative fur trade and secure “an inexhaustible granary” of Canadian wheat to feed Americans.
Washington probably didn’t need that much convincing, because from the American viewpoint, Canada seemed ripe for the picking. The British only had 775 troops in the entire country, according to Randall, and the then-capital of Quebec City was guarded by fewer than 300 soldiers.
In his letter to the Continental Congress, Arnold envisioned a straightforward march to Montreal. But as detailed in Thomas A. Desjardin’s bookThrough a Howling Wilderness, Washington opted instead to go with a complicated, two-pronged attack. One part of the force would head up through New York toward Montreal, while to the east, a second 1,050-man contingent led by Arnold would make their way through the Maine wilderness to Quebec City, with the aim of catching the British by surprise.
The Expedition to Quebec Was Grueling
It might have worked, except that as Randall notes, “everything went wrong.” Because of a holdup in getting pay for the men, the expedition got off to a late start in September. The map obtained by Arnold was inaccurate, and the route turned out to be far longer and more arduous than he had envisioned.
Worse yet, Randall says, the Maine shipbuilder hired by the expedition secretly was a British loyalist, and he deliberately used heavy green wood and left out the caulking, so that the barges laden with supplies soon sank in the Kennebec River. After a brutal hurricane wiped out more of their provisions and equipment, many of Arnold’s men deserted and headed back home. By the time Arnold finally got to his destination in November, he had only 675 starving, poorly armed soldiers left, according to Malcolm’s account.
Meanwhile, Sir Guy Carleton, the skillful, savvy British commander in Canada, had rushed to Quebec City. By the time Arnold got there, British reinforcements—battle-hardened Scottish veterans of the French and Indian War—had arrived to bolster the defenses.
“If Arnold had gotten to Quebec three days earlier, it might have worked,” Randall explains. “He almost pulled it off.”
A New Year’s Eve Attack in a Blizzard Fizzles
Instead, after threatening to inflict “every severity” upon Quebec unless it surrendered, Arnold had to sit and wait for additional troops led by Maj. Gen. Montgomery to arrive. As this 1990 article by Randall details, the Americans finally launched their assault on Quebec City on New Year’s Eve in a blinding blizzard, and it quickly turned into a disaster.
A single volley of cannon fire killed Montgomery and most of his officers, and Arnold was severely wounded in the leg by a rifle shot and had to be dragged off the field. (Here is Carleton’s account of the battle.) Most of the American force was killed, wounded or captured, so that of the 300 men who’d survived the journey with Arnold to Quebec, only 100 were left.
Copy of a letter from General CARLETON to General HOWE, dated Quebec, Jan. 12, 1776
The 5th of December Mr. Montgomery took post at St. Croix, within less than two miles of Quebec, with some field artillery; his heavy cannon were landed at Caprouge; at the same time Arnold’s party took possession of the other avenues leading to the town, and prevented all communication with the country.
The 7th a woman stole into town with letters, addressed to the principal merchants, and promising them great indulgence in case of their compliance.
Inclosed was a letter to me in very extraordinary language, and a summons to deliver up the town; the messenger was sent to prison for a few days, and drummed out.
To give more efficacy to these letters, five small mortars were brought to St. Rock’s, and a battery of five cannon and one howitzer raised upon the heights, within about seven hundred yards of the walls.
Soon after Arnold appeared with a white flag, and said he had letter for me, but was refused admittance, and ordered to carry back his letter.
After every preparatory stratagem had been used to intimidate our wretched garrison, as Mr. Montgomery was pleased to call it, an assault was given the 31st of December, between four and five in the morning, during a snow storm from the north-east.
The alarm was general: from the side of the river St. Lawrence, along the fortified front, round to the bason, every part seemed equally threatened.
Two real attacks took place upon the Lower Town: one under Cape Diamond, led by Mr. Montgomery, the other by Mr. Arnold, upon the part called the Saut au Matelôt.
This at first met with some success, but in the end was stopped.
A sally from the Upper Town under captain LAWS attacked their rear, and sent in many prisoners, captain M’DOUGAL afterwards reinforced this party, and followed the rebels into the post they had taken.
Thus Mr. Arnold’s corps, himself and a few others excepted, who were wounded and carried off early, were completely ruined. They were caught as it were in a trap; we brought in their five mortars and one cannon.
The other attack was soon repulsed with slaughter. Mr. Montgomery was left among the dead.
The rebels have on this assault between six and seven hundred men, and between forty and fifty officers, killed, wounded, and taken prisoners.
We had only one lieutenant of the Navy doing duty as a captain in the garrison, and four rank and file killed, and thirteen rank and file wounded, two of the latter are since dead.
You will be pleased to transmit a copy of my letter to the secretary of state, by the first opportunity, for his majesty’s information, &c.
The brutal defeat “struck an amazing panick” among the Americans, as Arnold conceded in a dispatch to Washington a few weeks later. But to Arnold’s credit, he didn’t give up. Along with the tattered remainder of his forces, he cleverly kept up the siege, moving a single cannon around and firing at the fort to create the illusion that he had more artillery, according to Randall. In that fashion, Arnold held out until spring, when reinforcements from New England arrived, and he was ordered to return home.
“Arnold was superseded and pushed aside,” Randall says. It was the start of a pattern, in which his field experience and bravery was disregarded and he was repeatedly passed over in favor of other officers. “This was the beginning of his dilemma about which side to be on.”
Eventually, the arrival of a British fleet carrying 10,000 British regulars and German mercenaries in May 1776 forced the Americans to retreat for good.
The Quebec Act Sealed French Canadians’ Allegiance to the British
The French Canadian uprising that Arnold and others had hoped for never materialized, thanks to the property and religious rights that the British had conferred in the Quebec Act of 1774. “The French Canadians were Catholics, and they’d just been given legal status by the British,” Randall explains. “They saw the American invasion as a Protestant invasion.”
Despite his failure to take Quebec, Arnold eventually did manage to prevent the British from attacking from the north. In October 1776, he hastily put together a small fleet of ships that met Carleton’s invading force in the Battle of Valcour Island, and put up such fierce resistance that the British had to turn back. Four years later, Arnold would switch sides—and cement his legacy as one of the most infamous traitors in history.
Smith came from an unremarkableNew England family. His grandfather, Asael Smith, lost most of his property in Topsfield, Massachusetts, during the economic downturn of the 1780s and eventually moved to Vermont, where Smith’s father, Joseph Smith, Sr., established himself as a farmer. After the birth of Joseph Smith, Jr., a series of crop failures forced the family to move to Palmyra, New York. His mother, Lucy Mack, came from a Connecticut family that had disengaged from conventional Congregationalism and leaned toward Seekerism, a movement that looked for a new revelation to restore true Christianity. Although privately religious, the family rarely attended church, and after they moved to Palmyra they became involved in magic and treasure-seeking. Lucy Smith attended Presbyterian meetings, but her husband refused to accompany her, and Joseph, Jr., remained at home with his father.
Religious differences within the family and over religious revivals in the Palmyra area left Smith perplexed about where to find a church. When he was 14, he prayed for help, and, according to his own account, God and Jesus appeared to him. In answer to his question about which was the right church, they told him that all the churches were wrong. Although a local minister to whom he related the vision dismissed it as a delusion, Smith continued to believe in its authenticity. In 1823 he received another revelation: while praying for forgiveness, he later reported, an angel calling himself Moroni appeared in his bedroom and told him about a set of golden plates containing a record of the ancient inhabitants of America. Smith found the plates buried in a stone box not far from his father’s farm. Four years later, the angel permitted him to remove the plates and instructed him to translate the characters engraved on their surfaces with the aid of special stones called “interpreters.” Smith insisted that he did not compose the book but merely “translated” it under divine guidance. Completing the work in less than 90 days, he published it in March 1830 as a 588-page volume called the Book of Mormon.
The Book of Mormon told the 1,000-year history of the Israelites, who were led from Jerusalem to a promised land in the Western Hemisphere. In their new home, they built a civilization, fought wars, heard the word of prophets, and received a visit from Christ after his resurrection. The book resembled the Bible in its length and complexity and in its division into books named for individual prophets. According to the book itself, one of the prophets, a general named Mormon, abridged and assembled the records of his people, engraving the history on gold plates. Later, about 400 CE, the record keepers, known as Nephites, were wiped out by their enemies, the Lamanites, presumably the ancestors of the American Indians.
Emergence of the church
Establishment of settlements and persecution
On April 6, 1830, Smith organized a few dozen believers into a church. From then on, his great project was to gather people into settlements, called “cities of Zion,” where they would find refuge from the calamities of the last days. Male converts were ordained and sent out to make more converts, a missionary program that resulted in tens of thousands of conversions by the end of Smith’s life. Members of the church, known as Saints, gathered first at Independence, Missouri, on the western edge of American settlement. When other settlers found their presence intolerable, the Saints were forced to move to other counties in the state. Meanwhile, Smith moved his family to another gathering place in Kirtland, Ohio, near Cleveland.
None of these communities survived, however, because the faithful were expelled as soon as their increasing numbers threatened to give them political control of the towns in which they settled. Non-Mormons tolerated a handful of “religious fanatics” in their midst but found dominance by them to be unbearable. Smith fled Kirtland for Far West, Missouri, in 1838, but opposition arose once more. In 1838, facing expulsion for a third time, Smith tried to defend the church with arms. In response, local Missourians rose up in wrath, and the governor ordered that the Mormons be driven out of the state or, where that was not possible, exterminated. In November 1838 Smith was imprisoned on charges of robbery, arson, and treason, and he probably would have been executed had he not escaped and fled to Illinois.
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The Mormons came together in the nearly abandoned town of Commerce on the Illinois side of the Mississippi River. Renaming the site Nauvoo (a Hebrew word meaning “Beautiful Place”), Smith built his most successful settlement, complete with a temple (finished only after Smith’s death) on a bluff overlooking the town. Attracting converts from Europe as well as the United States, Nauvoo grew to rival Chicago as the largest city in the state.
His followers believed that Smith’s actions were directed by revelation. When questions arose, he would call upon God and dictate words in the voice of the Lord. Sometimes the revelations gave practical instructions; others explained the nature of heaven or the responsibilities of the priesthood. All Smith’s revelations were carefully recorded and preserved. In 1835 Smith published the first 65 revelations in a volume titled the Book of Commandments, later called the Doctrine and Covenants. While believing in the Bible, like all Christians, Smith broke its monopoly on the word of God. The Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants were added to the canon of scripture, and Smith spoke as if more revelations and translations would accumulate in the future.
Smith’s teachings departed from conventional Christian traditions by incorporating certain practices from the Hebrew Bible (see alsoOld Testament). The temples he built (in Smith’s lifetime, two were erected and two more were planned) were modeled on the temples of ancient Israel. He appointed his male followers to priesthoods, named for the biblical figures Melchizedek and Aaron, that were overseen by the office of high priest. In the temples, he instituted rituals of washing and anointing taken from instructions in the Book of Exodus for consecrating priests. Justifying the practice of polygamy by reference to the precedent of Abraham, the first of the Hebrew patriarchs, Smith was “sealed” (the ceremony that binds men and women in marriage for eternity) to about 30 wives, though no known children came from these unions. As in the Bible, men took the leading roles in church affairs, but by the end of his life Smith taught that men and women were redeemed together through eternal marriage. At the heart of his teachings was a confidence in the spiritual potential of common people. He believed that every man could be a priest and that everyone had in him the possibility of the divine. The purpose of the temple rituals was to give people the knowledge they needed to enter God’s presence and to become like God.
Character and final years
Smith was not a polished preacher. It was the originality of his views, an outsider commented, that made his discourse fascinating. Absolutely resolute in all of his projects, he never became discouraged, even under the most trying circumstances. Nor did people of higher social standing intimidate him; he appeared to think of himself as the equal of anyone, as demonstrated when he ran for president of the United States in 1844.
He married Emma Hale in 1827, when he was 21 years old and she was 22. The couple adopted twins and had nine biological children, five of whom died in infancy. Their devotion to each other was sorely tried by the practice of polygamy. Emma believed in her husband’s calling but could not abide additional wives. She remained faithful to him to the end, however, and after his death wore a lock of his hair on her person.
When dissenters published a reform newspaper in Nauvoo that Smith felt disturbed the peace, he ordered it suppressed. Meanwhile, non-Mormon hostility in the surrounding county had been growing for the usual reasons, and, when the press was closed, irate local citizens brought charges of promoting riot against Smith and his brother Hyrum. The two were taken to Carthage, the county seat, for a hearing, and, while imprisoned, they were shot by a mob on June 27, 1844. The leadership of the church then fell to Brigham Young, who dedicated himself to perpetuating Smith’s teachings and program. After the faithful left Nauvoo in 1846, they migrated to Utah, where they constructed Salt Lake City on a pattern laid down by Joseph Smith for the cities of Zion.
The British actor won a jiu-jitsu championship in a Milton Keynes school hall, while the US heartthrob launched his career as a sculptor at a subdued gallery show in Finland.
Tom Hardy is now a martial arts champion. The 45-year-old actor quietly entered the 2022 Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Open Championships in Milton Keynes this Saturday, beat all of his opponents and returned home victorious. Better yet, one of his competitors told the media that Hardy was “probably one of the toughest competitors I’ve had”.
This, make no mistake, is how you do it. Hardy’s jiu-jitsu debut is absolutely note perfect. Think of all the ways that this could have gone wrong. Hardy could have tried to monetise his hobby, by making a BBC Three documentary series called Tom Hardy: My Fighting Journey. He could have hyped the competition on social media, flooding the venue with fans and making the entire tournament all about him. He could have sought out sponsorship, and arrived in a gi daubed in logos for Coca-Cola or Chicken Tonight.
But no. He just quietly turned up to a secondary school sports hall on a Saturday morning, without drawing any unnecessary attention to himself, and went about kicking everyone’s butt into smithereens. And this, you suspect, is what will endear Hardy to people more than anything else. It isn’t necessarily that he won, although the fact that he did will only help to shore up his hard-man credentials, but the sheer mundanity of the event. This is Bane we’re talking about. It’s Venom. Hardy has flown in Spitfires for Christopher Nolan, yet here he is, going all the way to Milton Keynes just to win a certificate.
The same thing goes for Brad Pitt who, without drawing any attention to himself, unveiled a new side career as a sculptor this week. Again, he could have done this with a documentary, or a starry exhibition in the heart of Hollywood. And yet he instead chose to off-handedly make his debut in a Finnish art gallery, 110 miles north of Helsinki. And, like Hardy, he seems to be very accomplished at what he does, with Jonathan Jones calling him “an extremely impressive artist”.
What’s so refreshing is that, in a world where every celebrity imaginable is desperate to hurl their interests into a Goop-style megabrand, Hardy and Pitt appear to be doing this purely for the love of it. They have taken themselves away and focused on getting very good at something you might not have expected from them.
Smartly, they’ve both chosen something relatively career-adjacent to focus on, relying on either physical prowess or creative expression. This is important because, when stars diversify too far from their brands, they may never fully recover. It’s hard to square 1970s sex god Rod Stewart with the model railway enthusiast he has become, for example, and it takes quite a lot of mental aerobics to deal with the fact that Mike Tyson is also a secret pigeon fancier.
The potential for ridicule is always there, in short. Actor Jim Broadbent, for example, possibly regrets his decision to take his hobby public in 2015. This is because his hobby involves crudely carving life-sized human beings out of wood, then dressing them and putting them in wigs. Individually, the statues are all rather distinct and impressive. But when he posed in front of them all for a photoshoot, it did look a little like every bad dream you’ve ever had come harrowingly to life.
But this is still better than the alternative, which would be to embark on a hobby too noisily, as a means to an end. You see stars do this all the time, and it’s almost as if the hobby has been chosen arbitrarily, purely for its return on investment. Anyone can slap their name on a product for money, and the floods of celebrity alcohol brands and book clubs and beauty products on the market seem to suggest that most people do.
Interestingly, both Pitt and Hardy have been burned by this before. In 2013 Tom Hardy made a documentary – Poaching Wars – that was apparently motivated by his love of animals, but lacked any real authority, and Brad Pitt was recently sued after his noisy post-Katrina “I’m an architect now!” proclamation resulted in New Orleans residents living in defective homes.
So maybe this is the best way forward. If you’re a celebrity with an interest, then keep it as quiet as you can. Show your work in deepest Finland. Go to sports halls in Milton Keynes. If Brad Pitt and Tom Hardy are any indication, this is the best possible way to stay.
Russia and Ukraine exchanged hundreds of prisoners of war after a prisoner exchange was brokered by Turkey and Saudi Arabia. Among them were fighters from the Azovstal plant.
Among those freed were several commanders of the Azov regiment
Ukraine announced the release of 215 imprisoned soldiers and 10 foreigners from Russia on Thursday.
The soliders were released in exchange for 55 Russian prisoners, as well as Victor Medvedchuck, leader of the banned pro-Russia political party in Ukraine. Among the released were fighters who led the defense of Mariupol’s Azovstal’s steelworks, an act that has been hailed as an icon of Ukrainian resistance.
“We have managed to liberate 215 people,” the Ukraine presidency’s chief of staff Andriy Yermak announced on television. He went on to say that commanders of the Azov battalion were included in those released.
The Azov regiment is a unit of the National Guard of Ukraine. It gained attention fighting pro-Russian separatists in the Donbas region since 2014.
Victor Medvedchuck, who has been said to be Putin’s right hand man in Ukraine, is a Ukrainian politician who has been charged for alleged treason for his involvement with Russia. He was captured by Ukrainian forces in April.
Support from Turkey and Saudi Arabia
Yermak went on to thank Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Twitter, saying that the Azov commanders were already safe in Turkey thanks to “personal arrangements” between Zelenskyy and Erdogan.
Among the foreigners released were five British nationals, two US military veterans and further prisoners from Morocco, Sweden and Croatia. They were flown to Saudi Arabia after being freed, the Saudi ministry said in a statement.
“The relevant Saudi authorities received and transferred them from Russia to the kingdom and are facilitating procedures for their respective countries,” the statement said.
International leaders thank Ukraine
The White House thanked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for brokering the exchange in which two Americans were freed. US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said in a statement on Twitter that the White House thanked the Ukrainian government “for including two US citizens in the prisoner exchange announced today.”
British Prime Minister Liz Truss celebrated the news on social media, too.
“Hugely welcome news that five British nationals held by Russian-backed proxies in eastern Ukraine are being safely returned, ending months of uncertainty and suffering for them and their families,” she tweeted.
Parula americana Paruline à collier / Northern Parula
Feeding on all sorts of insects, the Northern Parula builds its nests from Temiscaming to the Maritimes, in mixed forests as well as mature and humid forests filled with spruce, fir, and hemlock spruce trees. It is absent for the winter, when it can be found in the eastern United States. Its length is 11 to 13 cm.
Dévoreuse d’insectes de toutes sortes, la paruline à collier niche du Témiscamingue aux Maritimes, aussi bien dans les forêts mixtes que dans les forêts âgées et humides, peuplées d’épinettes, de sapins et de pruches. Absente en hiver, on la retrouve dans l’est des États-Unis. Sa longueur varie entre 11 et 13 cm.
Musée de la civilisation, collection du Séminaire de Québec, The Birds of America, John James Audubon, 15/1993.34615
In an address to the nation, the president unveiled plans to draft 300,000 citizens currently in the reserve, and warned Moscow will use ‘all means at its disposal’ against the West’s nuclear blackmail
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday announced a partial military mobilization following recent setbacks in his war against Ukraine. Putin addressed the nation in his first appearance since he announced the Russian offensive in Ukraine on February 24, which he described then as a “special military operation.” Seven months later, in response to the recent success of Ukraine’s counteroffensive, he has decreed a partial mobilization that will see around 300,000 reservists called up to serve in Russia’s military campaign in Ukraine.
Putin told fellow citizens that the West wants to see “the disintegration of Russia” and warned that Moscow would use “all means at its disposal to defend Russia if its territorial integrity is threatened.” Insisting that he was not bluffing, he said that “those who try to blackmail us with nuclear weapons should know that the prevailing winds can turn in their direction.”
“The liberation of the entire territory of Donbas remains the immovable goal of the operation,” said Putin in his speech, referring once again to that eastern Ukrainian region as “the historical territory of Novorossiya [New Russia].” The president also ordered a decree to equalize the status of the paramilitary groups that support his military campaign with that of the soldiers of the Russian armed forces.
“Only citizens in the reserve will be subject to the call for partial mobilization,” said Putin. The Russian president has already signed the decree and promised that the reservists will receive “additional training” before being sent to the front. The decree will also extend soon-to-expire contracts of Russian soldiers in Ukraine until “the end of the partial mobilization period.”
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu also appeared in the national address, in which he announced the first official death toll of Russian soldiers since March. “Our losses to date are 5,937 deaths,” he said, saying the number pales in comparison to the “more than 100,000 deaths” suffered by the Ukrainian armed forces. The official figure, however, is 10 times lower than Western estimates.
Shoigu said that around 300,000 reservists would be called up according to need, out of a pool of around 25 million.
Additionally, the State Duma on Tuesday approved a series of amendments to the criminal code that include scenarios of mobilization and war. The reform will mean that reservists who do not respond to the mobilization call, or soldiers who refuse to fight or who surrender, can be punished with jail time.
The partial mobilization order comes after Putin announced plans to hold independence referendums in Russian-occupied regions of Ukraine. “Sham referenda and mobilization are signs of weakness, of Russian failure,” said Bridget A. Brink, the US ambassador to Ukraine, in a message on Twitter following Putin’s announcement on Wednesday. “The United States will never recognize Russia’s claim to purportedly annexed Ukrainian territory, and we will continue to stand with Ukraine for as long as it takes.”
Antony Blinken calls referendums plan a ‘sham’ and Moscow’s possible mobilisation of extra forces ‘a sign of Russian failure’ ahead of Biden speech
Joe Biden will use his speech at the United Nations on Wednesday to rally the world to stand firm in the face of Russian plans to hold referendums in occupied parts of Ukraine and possibly introduce widespread conscription, which the US described as signs of desperation unlikely to halt Ukrainian military gains.
Biden will seek the broadest possible support for Ukrainian resistance at the UN general assembly (UNGA) by depicting it as a direct violation of the UN’s founding charter, and will make new announcements about the US funding of measures to address global food insecurity, caused in part by the Russian invasion, which has threatened developing countries with famine.
Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, said: “He [Biden] will underscore the importance of strengthening the United Nations and reaffirm core tenets of its charter at a time when a permanent member of the security council has struck at the very heart of the charter by challenging the principle of territorial integrity and sovereignty.”
Speaking in New York, on the margins of the UNGA summit, the US secretary of state, Antony Blinken said: “None of this – the sham referenda, the potential mobilisation of additional forces – is a sign of strength. On the contrary, it’s a sign of weakness. It’s the sign of Russian failure.”
Biden’s speech on Wednesday morning will be followed a few hours later by a video address delivered by the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, an address that Russia tried to stop but which was overwhelming supported by the general assembly membership.
Biden and Zelenskiy will seek to present the Russian invasion as a direct affront to everything the UN stands for. They will make their speeches as reports of mass graves filter in from the formerly Russian-occupied town of Izium, and after the Russian state Duma passed new amendments to the legal code that directly refer to “mobilisation” and “martial law”, and introduce criminal liability for desertion or wilful surrender during that period.
Four Russian-occupied regions in Ukraine have said they are planning to hold “referenda” on joining the Russian Federation in a series of coordinated announcements that could indicate the Kremlin has made a decision to formally annex the territories.
Sullivan said that the US would never accept the claimed results of such “sham referenda”. On possible conscription plans, he said Vladimir Putin “may be resorting to partial mobilisation, forcing even more Russians to go fight his brutal war in Ukraine”. However, he did not think it would turn the military tide, which has shifted in Kyiv’s favour in recent days.
“In terms of Russia being able to put more troops onto the battlefield, obviously, that will have an impact on the battlefield equation, but we do not believe at this point that it will undermine Ukraine’s ability to effectively repel Russian aggression and to continue making gains,” Sullivan said.
In his address to the general assembly, French president Emmanuel Macron, described the Russian attempt to occupy Ukraine as “a return to the age of imperialism”. Macron castigated those member states who presented themselves as being neutral in the conflict, saying they were making “a historic error”.
“Those who are keeping silent today are, in a way, complicit with the cause of a new imperialism,” the French president said.
German chancellor Olaf Scholz said on Tuesday in his first address to the general assembly that Putin will give up his “imperial ambitions” that risk destroying Ukraine and Russia only if he recognises he cannot win the war. “This is why we will not accept any peace dictated by Russia and this is why Ukraine must be able to fend off Russia’s attack,” Scholz said.
Finland’s president, Sauli Niinistö, portrayed the news out of Moscow as Putin raising the stakes in an ever more desperate gamble.
“Now we are in a situation where Putin, using the poker term, has gone all-in, and it is extremely risky to play this way. By all-in, I mean, for example, the political and economic future of Russia,” Niinistö said in his address to the assembly.
The Kremlin has so far resisted a full mobilisation, likely due to fear of a political backlash. Experts have also questioned whether a Russian mobilisation would have any immediate effect in terms of stopping a Ukrainian advance that has reclaimed more than 3,000 square miles in the past month.
“There’s one problem,” wrote Ekaterina Schulmann, a political analyst. “The administrative side of adding new territory takes time, mobilising and integrating mobilised troops takes time, and they’re assuming the opposing side is going to stop and wait – evidently, out of respect for the Russian legislative process.”
The occupied Donetsk and Luhansk regions have said they are ready to hold “polls”, which will be universally viewed as rigged, as soon as this week, with announcements also made in Kherson and Zaporizhzhia. Some Russian media have reported that Putin may deliver a speech shortly on a potential annexation.
As Ukrainian troops begin making advances in the Luhansk region, Russia may be worried that it can’t win on the battlefield and threaten a potential escalation, including a formal declaration of war or even a nuclear attack, by claiming to defend its own territory.
“Everything that’s happening today is an absolutely unequivocal ultimatum to Ukraine and the west,” wrote Tatiana Stanovaya, an expert on Kremlin politics and founder of R.Politik. “Either Ukraine retreats or there will be nuclear war.”
“To guarantee ‘victory’, Putin is ready to hold referendums immediately in order to obtain the right (in his understanding) to use nuclear weapons to defend Russian territory.”
The fleet left Spain on 20 September 1519, sailing west across the Atlantic toward South America. In December, they made landfall at Rio de Janeiro.
From there, they sailed south along the coast, searching for a way through or around the continent. After three months of searching (including a false start in the estuary of Río de la Plata), weather conditions forced the fleet to stop their search to wait out the winter. They found a sheltered natural harbor at the port of Saint Julian, and remained there for five months.
Shortly after landing at St. Julian, there was a mutiny attempt led by the Spanish captains Juan de Cartagena, Gaspar de Quesada and Luis de Mendoza. Magellan barely managed to quell the mutiny, despite at one point losing control of three of his five ships to the mutineers. Mendoza was killed during the conflict, and Magellan sentenced Quesada and Cartagena to being beheaded and marooned, respectively. Lower-level conspirators were made to do hard labor in chains over the winter, but were later freed.
During the winter, one of the fleet’s ships, the Santiago, was lost in a storm while surveying nearby waters, though no men were killed. Following the winter, the fleet resumed their search for a passage to the Pacific in October 1520. Three days later, they found a bay which eventually led them to a strait, now known as the Strait of Magellan, which allowed them passage through to the Pacific.
While exploring the strait, one of the remaining four ships, the San Antonio, deserted the fleet, returning east to Spain. The fleet reached the Pacific by the end of November 1520. Based on the incomplete understanding of world geography at the time, Magellan expected a short journey to Asia, perhaps taking as little as three or four days. In fact, the Pacific crossing took three months and twenty days. The long journey exhausted their supply of food and water, and around 30 men died, mostly of scurvy.
Magellan himself remained healthy, perhaps because of his personal supply of preserved quince.
On 6 March 1521, the exhausted fleet made landfall at the island of Guam and were met by native Chamorro people who came aboard the ships and took items such as rigging, knives, and a ship’s boat. The Chamorro people may have thought they were participating in a trade exchange (as they had already given the fleet some supplies), but the crew interpreted their actions as theft. Magellan sent a raiding party ashore to retaliate, killing several Chamorro men, burning their houses, and recovering the stolen goods.
On 16 March, the fleet sighted the island of Samar (“Zamal”) in the eastern Philippine Islands. They weighed anchor in the small (then uninhabited) island of Homonhon (“Humunu”), where they would remain for a week while their sick crew members recuperated. Magellan befriended the tattooed locals of the neighboring island of Suluan (“Zuluan”) and traded goods and supplies and learned of the names of neighboring islands and local customs.
After resting and resupplying, Magellan sailed on deeper into the Visayas Islands. On 28 March, they anchored off the island of Limasawa (“Mazaua”) where they encountered a small outrigger boat (“boloto”). After talking with the crew of the boat via Enrique of Malacca (Magellan’s slave-interpreter who was originally from Sumatra), they were met by the two large balangay warships (“balanghai”) of Rajah Kulambo (“Colambu”) of Butuan, and one of his sons.
They went ashore to Limasawa where they met Kulambo’s brother, another leader, Rajah Siawi (“Siaui”) of Surigao (“Calagan”). The rulers were on a hunting expedition on Limasawa. They received Magellan as their guest and told him of their customs and of the regions they controlled in northeastern Mindanao. The tattooed rulers and the locals also wore and used a great amount of golden jewelry and golden artifacts, which piqued Magellan’s interest. On 31 March, Magellan’s crew held the first Mass in the Philippines, planting a cross on the island’s highest hill. Before leaving, Magellan asked the rulers for the next nearest trading ports. They recommended he visit the Rajahnate of Cebu (“Zubu”), because it was the largest. They set off for Cebu, accompanied by the balangays of Rajah Kulambo and reached its port on 7 April.
Magellan met with the King of Cebu, Rajah Humabon, who asked them for tribute as a trade, thinking they were traders bartering with them. Magellan and his men insisted that they did not need to pay tribute as they were sent by the king of Spain, “the most powerful king in the world”, and that they were willing to give peace to them if they wanted peace and war if they wanted war. Humabon then decided not to ask for anymore tribute and welcomed them instead to the Kingdom of Cebu (Sugbo).
To mark the arrival of Christianity in the Far East, Magellan then planted a Cross on the shorelines of the kingdom. Magellan set about converting the locals, including the king and his wife, Queen Humamay, to Christianity. Rajah Humabon was renamed “Carlos” and Queen Humamay was renamed “Juana” after the king and queen of Spain. After her baptism, the queen asked the Spaniards for the image of the Child Jesus (Santo Niño), which she was drawn to, and begged them for the image in contrition, amidst her tears. Magellan then gave the image of the Child Jesus, along with an image of the Virgin Mary, and a small cross to the queen as a gesture of goodwill for accepting the new faith.
The king then had a Blood Compact with Magellan in order to cement the allegiance of the Spaniards and the Cebuanos. The king then told the Spaniards to go to the island of Mactan to kill his enemy Lapulapu.
The Spaniards went to the island of Mactan just as Rajah Humabon told them to. However, they did not initially come by force and wanted to Christianize them. Unlike the people of Cebu who accepted the new religion readily, the King of Mactan, Datu Lapulapu, and the rest of the island of Mactan resisted. On 27 April, Magellan and members of his crew attempted to subdue the Mactan natives by force, but in the ensuing battle, the Europeans were overpowered and Magellan was killed by Lapulapu and his men.
The monument of Lapulapu at Mactan Shrine, the site of the Battle of Mactan.
Following his death, Magellan was initially succeeded by co-commanders Juan Serrano and Duarte Barbosa (with a series of other officers later leading). The fleet left the Philippines (following a bloody betrayal by former ally Rajah Humabon, who had poisoned many Spanish soldiers on a banquet ruse on the night after the battle for being easily defeated by Lapulapu and the people of Mactan and failing to kill Lapulapu) and eventually made their way to the Moluccas in November 1521. Laden with spices, they attempted to set sail for Spain in December, but found that only one of their remaining two ships, the Victoria, was seaworthy. The Victoria, captained by Juan Sebastián Elcano, finally returned to Spain by 6 September 1522, completing the circumnavigation. Of the 270 men who left with the expedition, only 18 or 19 survivors returned.
An American teenager’s victory against the world champion has sent chess into uproar. We answer the key questions
What is going on in top-level chess?
Allegations of cheating – including wild speculation involving vibrating anal beads – have rocked chess to its core. A fortnight ago, the world champion, Magnus Carlsen, pulled out of a tournament for the first time in his career and then, on Monday he stunned the sport again by resigning a game after just one move. Both times Carlsen was faced with the same opponent, the 19-year-old American Hans Niemann.
When did the furore start?
Carlsen pulled out of the $500,000 (£433,000) Sinquefield Cup after a shock defeat against Niemann with white pieces. The day after the loss he posted a cryptic tweet that included a video clip of José Mourinho saying: “If I speak, I am in big trouble.” There was soon frenzied speculation over Carlsen’s motives, with the American grandmaster and popular streamer Hikaru Nakamura claiming Carlsen had withdrawn because he thought Niemann was “probably cheating”.
What happened next?
Organisers of the Sinquefield Cup announced additional anti‑cheating precautions, including a 15-minute delay in the broadcast of the moves and increased radio-frequency identification checks. Niemann, who had won two of his first three games, proceeded to lose or draw his final six. No evidence of cheating was found.
What explanations have been advanced for Niemann’s victory?
One theory doing the rounds on the internet, popularised by Elon Musk, is that Niemann used vibrating anal beads to help him. Another suggestion was that he may have somehow been leaked Carlsen’s opening preparation. Both are denied by Niemann. But others have suggested the American, who says he spends 10-12 hours a day on chess, may have simply been the better player on the day.
How would those beads help a chess player win?
The Guardian spoke to two sources in the chess world, who both said if top players knew a move that gave them a significant advantage existed – perhaps with the use of some sort of signal – it would help them to find it more often than not.
How has Niemann responded?
After his victory against Carlsen, Niemann claimed that “by some ridiculous miracle” he had guessed what his opponent’s unusual opening would be and prepared for it. “It must be embarrassing for the world champion to lose to me,” he said. “I feel bad for him.” The next day, Niemann did admit he had cheated in the past in online events with the help of computer assistance when he was a 12- and 16-year-old – but insisted he was now “clean” and was even prepared to play naked to prove his innocence. However, Chess.com has since said they believed Niemann had cheated online more frequently and had shown him the evidence. Niemann has been banned from the site and Chess.com events.
How do you cheat at chess?
It is far easier to do so over the internet, where some players have been caught using computer engines to help them to find good moves. It is trickier over the board where players are often scanned beforehand for electric devices. That doesn’t mean it is not possible, however. Perhaps the most high-profile case involved the French players Sébastien Feller, Arnaud Hauchard and Cyril Marzolo, who were found guilty of cheating at the 2010 Chess Olympiad. The elaborate scheme involved Marzolo analysing the games of Feller on the internet, before sending suggestions to Hauchard by SMS. He then relayed them to Feller by standing behind one of the other players’ tables in a predefined coded system, where each table represented a move to play. In 2019, Feller was given a six-month suspended prison sentence for his behaviour. More recently, the Latvian grandmaster Igors Rausis was banned for six years after being caught looking up moves on a phone he had hidden in a toilet. At the recent Olympiad in India, some players were surprised to have their heads scanned by electromagnetic wands. One theory doing the rounds was that organisers were looking for devices hidden in teeth.
Why did Carlsen and Niemann play again so soon and what happened?
They were invited to take part in the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour’s Julius Baer Generation Cup and they squared off again on Monday night, this time online rather than face to face. But Carlsen caused more controversy by resigning after playing just one move.
How have other players reacted?
The response has been mixed. The top grandmaster Anish Giri said it was “pretty clear” Carlsen did not have direct evidence Niemann had cheated against him. But he said: “It’s a big problem playing people who have admitted to cheating online before because you lose trust in them.” Carlsen’s Norwegian teammate Jon Ludvig Hammer condemned the decision to resign after one move. “It is completely unacceptable behaviour to lose on purpose, it is the most unsportsmanlike behaviour in the world of sports,” he said, before suggesting Carlsen could be sanctioned for his actions.
Where does this all leave us?
With a Mexican standoff of epic proportions. The world’s leading expert on cheating in chess, Dr Kenneth Regan, has analysed all of Niemann’s games over the past two years and his conclusion is there is no reason whatsoever to suspect him of cheating. However, Carlsen, the most powerful player in chess, is clearly unconvinced.
The sign above the steel gates of Auschwitz reads “arbeit macht frei” – work sets you free. It was, of course, a chilling lie, an evil hoax. But there was one surprising source of temporary escape inside the gates: music. Composers and singers and musicians, both world-class and recreational, were among the imprisoned. And what’s not widely known is that under the bleakest conditions imaginable, they performed and wrote music. Lots of it.
More than 6 million people, most of them Jews, died in the Holocaust, but their music did not, thanks in part to the extraordinary work of Francesco Lotoro. An Italian composer and pianist, Lotoro has spent 30 years recovering, performing, and in some cases, finishing pieces of work composed in captivity. Nearly 75 years after the camps were liberated, Francesco Lotoro is on a remarkable rescue mission, reviving music like this piece created by a young Jewish woman in a Nazi concentration camp in 1944.
Francesco Lotoro (Translation): The miracle is that all of this could have been destroyed, could have been lost. And instead the miracle is that this music reaches us. Music is a phenomenon which wins. That’s the secret of the concentration camps. No one can take it away. No one can imprison it.
It seems unlikely, even impossible, that music could have been performed and composed at a place like this site of unspeakable evil, the most horrific mass murder in human history.
This is Auschwitz-Birkenau. The Nazi concentration camp in southern Poland. Set up by the Germans in 1940 as part of Hitler’s “Final Solution,” it became the largest center in the world for the extermination of Jews.
More than a million men, women and children died here. For those who passed through this entrance, known as the “Gate of Death,” these tracks were a path to genocide and terror.
After they disembarked from cattle cars, most were sent directly to their deaths in the gas chambers.
The sounds of the camp included the screech of train brakes, haunting screams of families separated forever., the staccato orders barked by SS guards.
But also in the air: the sound of music, the language of the gods. This piece, titled “Fantasy” was written for oboe and strings, composed by a prisoner in Poland in 1942.
“In some cases, we are in front of masterpieces that could have changed the path of musical language in Europe.”
At Auschwitz, as at other camps, there were inmate orchestras, set up by the Nazis to play marches and entertain. There was also unofficial music, crafted in secret, a way of preserving some dignity where little otherwise existed.
During the Holocaust, an entire generation of talented musicians, composers and virtuosos perished. 75 years later, Francesco Lotoro is breathing life into their work.
Francesco Lotoro (Translation): In some cases, we are in front of masterpieces that could have changed the path of musical language in Europe if they had been written in a free world.
Francesco Lotoro’s work may culminate in stirring musical performances, but that’s just the last measure, so to speak. His rescue missions, largely self-financed, begin the old fashioned way, with lots of hard work, knocking on doors, and face-to-face meetings with survivors and their relatives.
Jon Wertheim: I have heard that you’ve searched attics and basements. I imagine sometimes families don’t even know the musical treasure they have.
Francesco Lotoro (Translation): There are children who have inherited all the paper material from their dad who survived the camp and stored it. When I recovered it, it was literally infested with paper worms. So before taking it, a clean-up operation was required, a de-infestation.
Lotoro grew up and still lives in Barletta, an ancient town on the Adriatic Coast of southern Italy. His modest home, which doubles as his office, is stuffed with tapes, audio cassettes, diaries and microfilm.
Aided by his wife, Grazia, who works at the local post office to support the family, Lotoro has collected and catalogued more than 8,000 pieces of music, including symphonies, operas, folk songs, and Gypsy tunes scribbled on everything from food wrapping to telegrams, even potato sacks.
The prisoner who composed this piece used the charcoal given to him as dysentery medicine and toilet paper to write an entire symphony which was later smuggled out in the camp laundry.
Jon Wertheim: He’s using his dysentery medication as a pen and he’s using toilet paper as paper.
Francesco Lotoro: Yes.
Jon Wertheim: And that’s how he writes a symphony.
Francesco Lotoro: Yes, when you lost freedom, toilet paper and coal can be freedom.
It’s a testament to resourcefulness, how far artists will go to create. It’s also a testament to the range of emotions that prisoners experienced.
Jon Wertheim: What kind of music is this? This is 1944 in Buchenwald, in a camp.
Francesco Lotoro: This here a march.
Jon Wertheim: This is a march?
Francesco Lotoro: This surely to be scored for orchestra. (SINGS) It’s a march.
Lotoro isn’t just collecting this music, he’s arranging it and sometimes finishing these works. Jon Wertheim: Is this completed work or is this only partial?
Francesco Lotoro: No, they’re only the melodies.
This tender composition was written by a pole while he was in Buchenwald Concentration Camp. Lotoro says that if music like this isn’t performed, it’s as if it’s still imprisoned in the camps. It hasn’t been freed.
This wasn’t an obvious calling for an Italian who was raised Roman Catholic, but from age 15, Lotoro says, he felt the pull of another religion.
Jon Wertheim: You converted to Judaism. You say you have a Jewish soul. Define what that means.
Francesco Lotoro (Translation): There was a rabbi who explained to me that when a person converts to Judaism, in reality he doesn’t convert. He goes back to being Jewish. Doing this research is possibly the most Jewish thing that I know.
Francesco Lotoro (Translation): We Jews have a word which expresses this concept. Mitzvah. It is not something that someone tells you you must do, you know as a Jew that you must do it.
Lotoro’s quest began in 1988 when he learned about the music created by prisoners in the Czech concentration camp Theresienstadt. The Nazis had set up the camp to fool the world into believing they were treating Jews humanely. Inmates were allowed to create and stage performances, some of which survive in this Nazi propoganda film. Lotoro was amazed by the level of musicianship and wondered what else was out there.
He reached out to Bret Werb, music curator at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, in Washington D.C. Werb says Francesco Lotoro is building on the legacy of others who have searched for concentration camp music, but Lotoro is taking it to the next level, making the scores performable.
Jon Wertheim: Why did people in concentration camps turn to music?
Bret Werb: It helped people to cope. It helped people to escape. It gave people something to do. It allowed them to comment on the experiences that they were undergoing.
Jon Wertheim: Did music save lives during the Holocaust?
Bret Werb: there is no doubt that being a member of an orchestra increased your chances of survival
Anita Lasker-Wallfisch is one of the last surviving members of the women’s orchestra at Auschwitz. She is now 94 years old. We met her at her home in London. Jon Wertheim: What had you heard about the camp before you arrived?
Anita Lasker-Wallfisch: We heard everything that was going on there only we didn’t – still tried not to believe it. But by the time I arrived there, in fact, I knew it was a reality, gas chambers and… yeah…
Jon Wertheim: You came prepared for the worst?
Anita Lasker-Wallfisch: I came prepared for the worst, yes.
Her parents, German Jews, were taken away in 1942 and she never saw them again. She was just 18 when she arrived at the death camp a year later.
Anita Lasker-Wallfisch: We were put in some sort of block and waited all night, and the next morning there was a sort of welcome ceremony and there were lots of people sitting there doing the reception business. Like tattooing you, taking your hair off, et cetera. That’s all done by prisoners themselves
The numbers are still visible on her left arm.
Anita Lasker-Wallfisch: I was led to a girl also a prisoner and a sort of normal conversation took place. And then she asked me what was I doing before the war. And like an idiot, I don’t know, I said, “I used to play the cello.” She said, “That’s fantastic.” “You’ll be saved,” she said. I had no idea what she was talking about.
Jon Wertheim: And that’s how you heard there was an orchestra?
Anita Lasker-Wallfisch: Yeah.
Jon Wertheim: And this is your salvation?
Anita Lasker-Wallfisch: That was my salvation, yeah.
The conductor of the orchestra was virtuoso violinist alma rose, niece of the famous Viennese composer, Gustav Mahler. Anita Lasker-Wallfisch says Rose, a prisoner herself, had an iron discipline and tried to focus attention away from the profound misery of the camp.
Anita Lasker-Wallfisch: I remember that we were scared stiff of her. She was very much the boss. And she knew very well that if she did not succeed to make a reasonable orchestra there, we wouldn’t survive. So it was a tremendous responsibility this poor woman had.
The orchestra members all lived together in a wooden barracks like this – in Block 12 at Birkenau – known as the Music Block.
Anita Lasker-Wallfisch: We were based very near the crematoria. We could see everything that was going on.
Jon Wertheim: You’re practicing your orchestra and you can see everything going on?
Anita Lasker-Wallfisch: Yeah, I mean, once you are inside Auschwitz, you knew what was going on, you know.
Jon Wertheim: How do you play music pretending to ignore everything going on around you?
Anita Lasker-Wallfisch: You arrive in Auschwitz you are prepared to go to the gas chamber. Somebody puts a cello in your hand, and you have a chance of life. Are you going to say “I’m sorry I don’t play here I play in Carnegie Hall?” I mean, people have funny ideas about what it’s like to arrive in a place where you know you’re going to be killed.
Jon Wertheim: What I hear you say is that your ability to play the cello saved your life.
Anita Lasker-Wallfisch: Yeah, simple as that.
The main function of the camp orchestras: playing marches for prisoners every day here at the main gate, a way, literally to set the tempo for a day of work. And a way to count the inmates.
Jon Wertheim: Right here is where the men’s orchestra played?
Francesco Lotoro: Yes there was like a procession and the orchestra played there.
The orchestras also played when new arrivals disembarked from trains at Birkenau, to give a sense of normalcy, tricking newcomers into thinking it was a hospitable place. This, when at the height of the killings, Nazis were murdering thousands of men, women and children each day. Evidence of the scope and scale of the atrocity still exists here: mountains of shoes, suitcases, glasses, shaving brushes, murder on an industrial scale.
Auschwitz archivists showed us some of the instruments that were taken out of the camp by orchestra members at the end of the war and later donated to the museum. This clarinet, a violin, and an accordion, as well as some of the music they played.
Jon Wertheim: This is the prisoner’s orchestra the concentration camp Auschwitz?
Jon Wertheim: And this is the inventory of instruments.
Archivist: Yes, what is inside.
The orchestras also gave concerts on Sundays for prisoners and for SS officers.
Anita Lasker-Wallfisch remembers playing for the infamous Dr. Josef Mengele, known as “the angel of death.” Mengele conducted medical experiments on prisoners. His notorious infirmary still stands just steps from the railroad tracks in Birkenau.
Anita Lasker-Wallfisch: What was interesting is that these people, these arch criminals, were not uneducated people.
Jon Wertheim: That this monstrous man could still appreciate Schumann.
Anita Lasker-Wallfisch: Yeah.
Jon Wertheim: How do you reconcile that?
Anita Lasker-Wallfisch: I don’t.
Francesco Lotoro took us to another location where the Auschwitz camp orchestra played for Nazi officers and their families. It’s just feet from the crematorium and within sight of the house of camp commandant Rudolf Hess.
Jon Wertheim: You were saying sometimes the smoke from the crematorium was so thick the musicians couldn’t even see the notes in front of them.
Francesco Lotoro: Yes, it happened.
Jon Wertheim: It happened.
Francesco Lotoro: And it’s tragic. Life and death were together.
Jon Wertheim: Life and death were intermingling.
Francesco Lotoro: And the point of connection of life and death is music. This is all we have about life in the camp. Life disappeared. We have only music. For me, music is the life that remained.
Music may be the life that remained, music like this 1942 piece titled “Fantasy”, but it is the people behind the music that animate Francesco Lotoro’s long and ambitious project. Their compositions created at a time when fundamental values were in danger.
Today, as the number of Holocaust survivors dwindles, it’s more often their descendants Lotoro tracks down.
For 30 years, Lotoro has been on an all-consuming quest to collect music created by prisoners during the Holocaust. As he travels the world, mostly on his own dime, he is both a detective and an archaeologist, digging through the past to recover and discover actual artifacts. But maybe even more important, he meets with survivors and their family members to excavate the stories behind the music. We traveled to Nuremberg, Germany, to meet Waldemar Kropinski. He is the son of Jozef Kropinski, perhaps the most prolific and versatile composer in the entire camp constellation.
Waldemar Kropinski says his father’s work was totally unknown before Francesco Lotoro brought it to light.
Waldemar Kropinski (Translation): I thought it was something that was of no interest to anyone because my father was already dead and not even one camp composition of his was performed in Poland.
Jozef Kropinski, a Roman Catholic, was 26 when he was caught working for the Polish resistance and sent to Auschwitz, where he became first violinist in the men’s orchestra and started secretly composing, first for himself, and then for other prisoners. In 1942, he wrote this piece that he titled “Resignation”.
Waldemar Kropinski (Translation): This is the list my father did seven months before his death.
Jon Wertheim: Oh this was all of his music.
Kropinski wrote hundreds of pieces of music during his four years of imprisonment, at Auschwitz and later at Buchenwald, including tangos, waltzes, love songs, even an opera in two parts.
Still more astonishing, he composed most of them at night, by candlelight, in a tiny room the Nazis diabolically called a pathology lab, where during the day, bodies were dismembered. Other prisoners had secured the space for kropinski so he could have a quiet place to compose. Jon Wertheim: This is where he worked? This is the pathology room where the cadavers mounted and he wrote music.
Waldemar Kropinski (Translation): Yes.
Paper was in short supply, so Kropinski wrote music on items like this stolen Nazi requisition form…
Waldemar Kropinski (Translation): Because on the other side you had clean paper and my father could write notes…
Jon Wertheim: What’s the name of this piece?
Waldemar Kropinski (Translation): A set of Christmas songs for a string quartet.
That’s right, a few feet from piles of dead bodies, Jozef Kropinski wrote a suite of holiday songs. Waldemar says his father did it all to help raise the spirits of his fellow prisoners.
Waldemar Kropinski (Translation): His music was really touching hearts and very positive. It was important that the prisoners could hear something else in this time, something touching, so that they could go back in their memory to the old times, and feel encouraged.
In April 1945, as the Allies approached Buchenwald, the camp was evacuated and inmates were forced on a death march. Kropinski was able to smuggle out his violin and hundreds of pieces of music, some hidden in his violin case and others in a secret coat pocket, but only 117 survive today. On the march, he sacrificed the rest to build a fire for his fellow prisoners.
Jon Wertheim: You’re saying your father took paper on which he had written compositions and used that to start a fire to give people heat to save their lives?
Waldemar Kropinski (Translation): Yes, not only his life but the lives of others.
Francesco Lotoro says Kropinski, like so many other musicians, hasn’t gotten the recognition he deserves.
Francesco Lotoro (Translation): He was a man who obviously suffered a lot in the camps, but made himself available to others, creating music. He was a man who must be understood not only as a musician but as someone who created solidarity, created unison in the camps.
“These musicians, for me, wanted only one desire: that this music can be performed.”
Jon Wertheim: When did you first come into contact with Francesco Lotoro?
Christoph Kulisiewicz: Francesco Lotoro called me and he told me that he heard about my father, that he heard about his mission about his music I couldn’t believe my ears so I immediately I wanted to meet him.
We wanted to see what one of lotoro’s recovery missions looked like in practice, so we went along with him to the medieval city of Krakow, one of the oldest towns in southern Poland, to meet Christoph Kulisiewicz.
Christoph is the son of Aleksander Kulisiewicz, a Pole imprisoned by the Gestapo for anti-fascist writings and deported to Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp in 1939.
During more than five years of imprisonment, Kulisiewicz became something of a “camp troubadour,” helping inmates cope with their hunger and despair, and performing songs like this at secret gatherings. But he didn’t just compose and sing. He also used his extraordinary powers of recall, memorizing hundreds of songs by other prisoners, which he dictated to a nurse after the war, so they could be recorded.
Christoph Kulisiewicz says his father considered the songs to be a form of oral history, not just giving hope to his fellow inmates but laying bare the truth of what was happening inside the camp.
Christoph Kulisiewicz: He always said, “I am living for those who died. They can’t sing, they can’t talk, but I can.”
Jon Wertheim: It sounds like music was a way to find just a slice of dignity, of humanity.
Christoph Kulisiewicz: Exactly.
Jon Wertheim: Amid all this horrible stuff.
Christoph Kulisiewicz: Exactly. That is what my father used to say, the slice of dignity. He said, “As long as you can sing and compose and you keep it in your mind, and the SS officer doesn’t know what you keep in your mind, you are free.”
Jon Wertheim: What was it like for you the first time you heard your father’s work sort of brought out of the shadows by Francesco Lotoro and performed? What was that like for you?
Christoph Kulisiewicz: It was amazing. It was amazing because I never thought that it would come (to) life again and now it was like the voice of my father coming back as a real music again. So he was, you know, living again for me.
Waldemar Kropinski can relate to the joy of finally hearing his father’s music performed.
Waldemar Kropinski (Translation): It was a very personal feeling. Even today, although I know these pieces, I go back and listen to them often, and every time I hear them, I cry.
To date, Francesco Lotoro has arranged and recorded 400 works composed in the camps, including those by Aleksander Kulisiewicz and Jozef Kropinski, and this piece by a Jewish musician in Theriesendtadt.
This spring, Lotoro will perform some of them at a concert to mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the camps.
Francesco Lotoro: What happened in the camps is more than an artistic phenomena. We have to think of this music as a last testament. We have to perform this music like Beethoven, Mahler, Schumann. These musicians, for me, wanted only one desire: that this music can be performed.
Lotoro is building what he calls a “citadel” in his hometown of Barletta. Thanks to a grant from the Italian government, in February he plans to break ground at this abandoned distillery. A campus for the study of concentrationary music, it will include a library, a museum, a theater, and will house more than 10,000 items Lotoro has collected.
Francesco Lotoro (Translation): The real beneficiaries of this music aren’t us who are researching it, not this generation. The generation that will benefit from it, that will enjoy this music, is the generation of those who will come in 30 or 40 years. It’s an operation which is completely for the future.
He is continuing to raise funds from the public and hopes to complete the project in four years.
Jon Wertheim: You described what you’re doing as a mitzvah, this Jewish term for a good deed. I think a lot of people would say what you’re doing goes well beyond a good deed.
Like a musician who benefits from word of mouth, Francesco Lotoro and his remarkable work are starting to build a worldwide fan base.
Just last month alone, he performed in Toronto, Jerusalem and at a concert hall in Sao Paolo, Brazil. And that’s where we end our story tonight, as Francesco Lotoro brings to life the music he has rescued.
Produced by Katherine Davis. Associate producer, Jennifer Dozor. Broadcast associate, Cristina Gallotto. Edited by Stephanie Palewski Brumbach and Patrick Lee.
Musicologists often revere Olivier Messiaen’s 1941 Quatuor pour la fin du Temps (Quartet for the End of Time) as one of the most, if not the most, important works of the twentieth century.
Yet the reason is often overlooked, even though it lurks in plain sight right there in the title. I’ll admit that decades ago I was first drawn to the Quatuor by its potent title. But even though that remarkable title resonates even more profoundly in our current political climate, its indelible import lies beyond its two most apparent connotations that evoke the Quatuor’s origin and mysticism.
The tale of the Quatuor’s origin is indeed compelling. Born in 1908 to a teacher and a poet, Messiaen was already attracting notice as a brilliant student, organist and visionary composer when he was drafted for wartime military service but assigned as a medical orderly due to his poor eyesight. Captured and held in an open field for three weeks, he met Henri Akoka, a clarinetist who remarkably had managed to keep his cherished instrument and for whom Messiaen wrote a solo piece.
Also with them was Etienne Pasquier, a cellist who played in a famed trio with his brothers Pierre and Jean, and who accompanied Messiaen for pre-dawn bird watching (and listening). All three then were sent to Stalag VIIIA, a prisoner-of-war camp in Silesia for 30,000 enlisted officers. In his barracks Akoka encountered violinist Jean Le Boulaire.
In light of the unspeakable horrors of the Holocaust concentration camps seared into human memory, it seems apt to clarify the conditions under which Messiaen was held. Although food, heat and clothing were sparse, Stalag VIIIA was not a death camp (nor, at the other extreme, the cruelly-deceptive artist showcase of Theresienstadt, much less the insultingly light-hearted lark of Hogan’s Heroes), but rather akin to the conditions depicted in Renoir’s Grand Illusion – indeed Le Boulaire claimed to have been profoundly bored, Akoka spent much of his time trying to escape, and the camp had a library, newspaper and concerts. Despite overall deprivation, Messiaen fared rather well.
Even beyond the preferential treatment accorded to artists generally (Pasquier was reassigned from granite mining to cooking), Messiaen was excused from routine chores and assigned an early-morning watch to accommodate his interest in ornithology. Karl-Albert Brüll, a sympathetic and admiring German officer, procured manuscript paper, provided extra food and even posted a guard at the door of an isolated barracks to enable Messiaen to study and compose in privacy. (An unsung anti-Nazi nationalist hero, Brüll also protected Jews in the camp, including Akoka.)
The Quatuor arose over the course of several months, and was rehearsed four hours a day. Le Boulaire recalled that although the score was difficult and his demands severe, Messiaen provided constant guidance and reassurance. The camp commandant loved music and obtained instruments, including a violin and piano. Pasquier told movingly of how fellow-prisoners collected funds to buy a cello, with which he gratefully entertained A special notice with an art-deco design (and bearing the camp’s stamp of approval) announced the premiere which took place at 6 PM on January 15, 1941 as the week’s regularly-scheduled Saturday concert. Sadly, even modern program annotators still perpetuate myths asserted by the composer himself: a crowd of 5,000 jammed into the theater, the cello had only three strings, the clarinet was missing a key and the piano keys all stuck.
Rebecca Rischin documented that, while the venue was bitter cold and dimly lit, the “theater” was a partly-converted barracks that could have held at most a few hundred, and that others had no recall of damaged instruments (with which in any event the score could not possibly have been played).
The witnesses she interviewed generally agree that Messiaen prefaced the performance with a lecture explaining his religious inspiration, that guards, inmates and even recuperating ill prisoners attended, and that the performance was heard in silence (whether out of respect for Messiaen’s reputation, gratitude for a brief cultural respite, or sheer perplexity). While the music was strange even to trained ears, and many were unaccustomed to chamber music, clearly all seized upon the occasion as a profoundly spiritual vehicle to escape actuality, if only for a few moments, and it resonated deeply within each man’s soul. Despite Messiaen’s penchant for exaggeration (which Rischin attributes to his desire to stress how far he transcended the challenging circumstances), it’s hard to doubt his oft-cited ultimate recollection: “Never have I been heard with as much attention and understanding.”
In spite of the tight bond that must have formed during the months of focused preparation, the four musicians never performed the work again. The next month Messiaen and Pasquier were liberated as part of a political gesture prioritizing the repatriation of unarmed artists (and with the help of forged papers provided by Brüll to erase their status as soldiers, who were ineligible for release).
With his brothers, Pasquier went on to renew their illustrious Trio, which over the next three decades extensively concertized and compiled a magnificent discography of elegant performances from Mozart to moderns. In April Akoka succeeded in escaping – with his precious clarinet! – passing through enemy lines as an Arab and ultimately enjoyed a long career playing in French orchestras.
After an unsuccessful attempt, in late 1941 Le Boulaire also escaped thanks to more of Brüll’s forgeries but felt that he and his artistry had suffered too severely during his confinement and so he proceeded to bury his career, memories and even his name by becoming an actor under a new identity of Jean Lanier.
The four original artists bonded so well despite their disparate temperaments and religious outlooks – Pasquier was agnostic, warm and worldly, Le Boulaire atheistic and deeply depressed, Akoka a secular Jew and revolutionary who was constantly planning escape, and Messiaen a devout Catholic who accepted his fate as God’s will.
Of the four, Messiaen fared the best of all. Repatriated, he formalized the musical innovations of the Quatuor into a hugely influential treatise (Technique de mon langage musical), returned as organist at the Trinity Church in Paris (a post he held for a remarkable 60 years, interrupted only by the War, and which Anthony Pople notes was at odds wit his radical musical sensibilities), began teaching at the Paris Conservatoire (in part to replace ousted Jews), went on to become one of the leading musical pedagogues and theorists of his time, and produced an extraordinary body of compositions.
Anthus spinoletta Pipit Spioncelle (mâle et femelle) / Water pipit (male and female)
An eater of insects and spiders, the Water Pipit is common in the northernmost part of North America and around the summits of mountains in the southernmost part. Living on open ground and on bare terrain, it bands together in the fields and along the banks of waterways during the winter. Its length is 17 cm.
Croqueur d’insectes et d’araignées, le pipit spioncelle est commun au nord de l’Amérique et au sommet des montagnes en son sud. Vivant en sol et en terrain découverts, il se tient en bande dans les champs et sur les rivages en saison hivernale. Sa longueur est de 17 cm.
Musée de la civilisation, collection du Séminaire de Québec, The Birds of America, John James Audubon, 10/1993.34610
Inmates describe visits by Yevgeny Prigozhin, reported head of the Wagner group, who is said to offer pardons for those who enlist
The inmates of penal colony No 8, in the Tambov region 300 miles south of Moscow, rushed to their cell windows when they heard the sound of a helicopter approaching on a late afternoon in July.
“No one ever uses a chopper to get down here. We were curious what the big occasion was,” recalled Ivan, one of the inmates.
Half an hour later, he and the others were ordered to report to the prison’s main square where two heavily guarded men were waiting.
“We couldn’t believe our eyes, he would really come all the way to visit us,” said Ivan, who is halfway through a 23-year sentence for murder and, like other inmates interviewed, asked to use a pseudonym out of concerns for his safety. “But there he was standing in front of us: Prigozhin, in the flesh, urging us to join the Wagner private military group and fight in Ukraine.”
Since the start of the summer, reports have emerged that Yevgeny Prigozhin, a close ally of Vladimir Putin and the reported head of the Wagner group – an allegation he has repeatedly denied – was recruiting soldiers from within Russia’s extensive penitentiary system in an attempt to compensate for the country’s acute personnel shortages on the battlefield in Ukraine.
Last week a leaked video featuring a man closely resembling Prigozhin went viral on Russian social media. The man was shown telling inmates at another prison 500 miles north of Tambov that they would be freed if they served six months with his group, the first time the enlistment process had been captured on camera.
“When I saw that video, I thought Prigozhin must be on a very busy schedule because it was exactly what he told us as well,” Ivan said. “He promised we would be free if we fought for six months. But he warned that few would come back.”
The Guardian spoke to four prisoners and three close family members of inmates across different penal colonies in Russia who all gave similar accounts of how Prigozhin was personally conducting recruitment in prisons.
Ivan declined the job offer but he said roughly 120 inmates signed up and were now fighting in Ukraine after a one-week training course.
He said he would now join up if Prigozhin came calling again. “I have 11 more years to spend in jail,” he said. “Either I die in this shithole or I die there, it doesn’t matter that much. At least I’ll have a chance to fight for my freedom. We all compare it to Russian roulette.
“Besides, right now, signing up is voluntary. Soon we might have no choice and be forced to go,” he said, voicing a belief echoed by other prisoners contacted by the Guardian.
An inmate at prison colony No 2, in Russia’s isolated northern Komi region, described a similar visit by Prigozhin in mid-July.
Vladimir, who had only three weeks left of a sentence for theft when Prigozhin arrived, also decided to not sign up, but he said his cousin, who had 15 years left behind bars, was one of 104 inmates there who agreed to fight in Ukraine.
The Guardian was unable to verify all the details of the inmates’ accounts, but their stories corroborated earlier reports by the Russian investigative outlets Important Stories and Meduza.
According to Vladimir, prisoners were shown footage during Prighozin’s visit of Russian soldiers “bravely fighting” in Ukraine and were promised that their actions in the country would not be punished.
“Prisoners will know they can act with complete impunity there,” said Vladimir, who has since left jail. “Prison turns you into an animal, and there is a lot of hate growing inside you. Their hands will be untied there,” he added.
All prisoners interviewed said they were promised a presidential pardon after six months and a salary of 100,000 rubles (£1,400) a month.
Vladimir said Prigozhin told the group during his visit that they were recruiting “prisoners of all backgrounds, as long as they were healthy,” but warned that drinking, drug use, looting and desertion in Ukraine would be punishable by execution.
The exact number of Russian inmates recruited is hard to establish. A US official said on Monday that Wagner, which has been accused of war crimes and human rights abuses in Ukraine and other conflicts, was trying to recruit more than 1,500 convicted felons.
But Olga Romanova, the head of Jailed Russia, a prisoners’ rights NGO, believes the number is much higher. According to Romanova’s estimate, about 11,000 Russian prisoners have already signed up to go to Ukraine, a number that she said was growing rapidly.
“The process is accelerating. Just this morning alone, we got reports of 600 prisoners being transported from Nizhny Novgorod.”
Military experts have posed questions about the likely impact of poorly disciplined and badly trained Russian prisoners on the war. Rob Lee, a military analyst, said Moscow’s latest recruitment push might “plug some holes” in the short term but would do little to address Russia’s “critical” shortage of manpower.
The Kremlin’s reliance on unorthodox methods to keep the fighting going in Ukraine is worrying for Russia, according to Lee. “Russia no longer has a professional army in the traditional sense. It is now made up of some professional units, mixed with paid short-term contract soldiers, mercenaries and now, apparently, prisoners.
“Armies are effective when there is clear hierarchy and cohesion,” Lee added. “I can’t even begin to imagine what disciplinary problems prisoners will bring.”
On Tuesday, the opposition leader Alexei Navalny, himself behind bars, tweeted that Russian prisons were full of people with “big problems with discipline and even bigger problems with alcohol and substances”. He said: “What could such an army even accomplish in combat?”
Besides questions of effectiveness, Romanova said the process of recruiting prisoners to fight for a private military organisation while promising presidential pardons was “completely unlawful on so many levels”.
Her group has now focused its attention on helping families dissuade prisoners from signing up. “Every prisoner that doesn’t go there is potentially a saved Ukrainian life,” she said.
But for some families, Romanova’s offer of help will come too late. One woman, Irina, said her husband, who was in jail in Nizhny Novgorod, had told her two weeks ago that he was departing for Ukraine the next day.
“He told me he was doing it for me and our baby. So that we can be reunited again,” Irina said. “But what use is he to us dead? I wish Prigozhin never came.”
Prigozhin’s personal recruitment of prisoners has made the previously shadowy businessman one of Russia’s most visible pro-war figures. Although Wagner forces have previously been deployed in Syria and several African conflicts, its operations were wrapped in secrecy until the invasion of Ukraine brought it out of the shadows.
Despite Prigozhin’s previous denials of any links to Wagner, a spokesperson for his company Concord said when asked about the recruitment video that the man in the footage “looked and spoke like Mr Prigozhin”.
Prigozhin, whose photo now appears on Wagner posters, commented on the footage by criticising those who opposed the recruitment of prisoners. “It is either private military contractors and prisoners [fighting in Ukraine] or your children – decide for yourself,” he said on social media.
Inmates said Prigozhin appeared comfortable inside the walls of Russia’s notorious prisons. “You could see he was commanding the respect of the inmates,” said Mikhail, a third prisoner, from the Ivanovo region, whose penal colony Prigozhin visited in August.
“He wasn’t trying to sweet talk us. He said we were going to enter hell, but that it could be our lucky ticket out.” He said Prigozhin’s speech made a “great impression” on the prisoners, with 170 fellow inmates signing up to fight.
Telegram groups linked to Prigozhin now share videos of prisoners turned Wagner soldiers who encourage other inmates to join their ranks.
But not all prisoners going to Ukraine appear to be ready to fight for Russia. Yury Butusov, a Ukrainian journalist, published an interview last week with a Russian prisoner recruited to fight in Ukraine and captured by Kyiv who said he had used the opportunity given by Prigozhin to hand himself over to Ukraine.
“I told myself that when I came, I would do whatever it took to surrender,” the prisoner said, citing his anti-war stance and adding that he hoped to fight for Ukraine against Russia.
Romanova, the prisoners’ rights activist, expects that recruitment efforts in Russian prisons will be ramped up in the coming weeks. In a country that has the world’s fifth largest prison population per capita, Prigozhin’s helicopter is likely to keep on flying, she said. “They are covering more ground every day.”
Whatever the eventual impact on the war, the extraordinary footage of Prigozhin recruiting prisoners has already been described by observers as one of the defining, grim images of Putin’s presidency.
“The truth is,” said Ivan, the inmate from Tambov, “we, thieves and killers, are now fighting Russia’s war.”
The crisis in the country cannot be resolved without first addressing serious human rights abuses
When 20-year-old Venezuelan basketball player and college student Juan Pablo Pernalete left his house to join a march on April 26, 2017, his parents José Pernalete and Elvira Llovera never thought it would be the last day they spoke to their son. A few hours later, he was killed when a member of the Bolivarian National Guard fired a tear gas canister directly into his chest. When we met with the Pernaletes last month in Caracas, there were tears in their eyes as they described their son as bright and full of kindness – as a compassionate lover of animals.
Juan Pablo was one of thousands of youths who filled the streets after the Venezuelan government stripped the democratically-elected National Assembly of its legislative powers, plunging the country further into authoritarianism. At least 123 others were killed in the context of unrest and repression during that year’s protests.
In the five years since, the Pernalete family has faced countless obstacles in their search for justice. The Venezuelan government ran a smear campaign against Juan Pablo and all the youths who died in the 2017 wave of protests, dismissing them as criminals and their families as opportunists. High level officials in the government of Nicolás Maduro fabricated alternative narratives of Juan Pablo’s death, claiming he had been killed by hooded men with a bolt gun.
The perpetrators of this and other crimes that occurred in the context of repression and violence in recent years have largely seen impunity inside Venezuela. This includes systematic extrajudicial executions of largely poor young men committed by police and security forces in working class neighborhoods, operations that amount to criminalization of poverty. Thousands have been killed in recent years by security forces in operations that lack any oversight and accountability, leaving behind families with no access to redress.
Calls for justice in all of these cases have grown louder in the international community since 2019. That year, the UN Human Rights Council created the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Venezuela (FFM), a three-person group that has carried out investigation and documentation of the human rights reality in the country. For the Pernaletes – along with countless other Venezuelan families and victims – the FFM has provided a way of showcasing the truth about their cases to the world.
The experts have forged ahead despite the fact that the Venezuelan government has so far denied them entry to the country. The FFM has carried out groundbreaking research, interviewing witnesses, gathering primary evidence, and talking to current and former members of the security forces along with other Venezuelan actors with firsthand knowledge of crimes.
What the experts found was appalling. In their first report in 2020, the FFM concluded that there are grounds to believe crimes against humanity had been committed in Venezuela, including “murder; imprisonment and other severe deprivations of physical liberty; torture; rape and other forms of sexual violence; enforced disappearance of persons […] and other inhumane acts of a similar character.” These widespread, systematic crimes were carried out in furtherance of two state policies: one of targeted repression of perceived opponents, and another to eliminate individuals perceived as criminals via extrajudicial executions.
The FMM also found that “high-level authorities had knowledge of those crimes” and that officials likely knew about these crimes – and took no action to prevent them – all along the chain of command, from rank and file members of the security and intelligence forces to the highest levels of government.
Without justice for those found responsible for the grave human rights violations and crimes against humanity documented by the Fact-Finding Mission, there can be no meaningful solution to Venezuela’s crisis
In a second report made public in 2021, the FFM documented how the Venezuelan judiciary branch has been coopted by the executive branch, and how this has created an environment in which prosecutors, judges, and police are complicit in widespread persecution and repression. The report documents how the court system in Venezuela has routinely covered for illegal arrests and other deviations from due process, and turned a blind eye to human rights violations.
These reports have provided an important record for victims, and they may eventually contribute directly to the search for justice in their cases. In November 2021 the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) opened a formal investigation into possible crimes against humanity in Venezuela committed by government officials and pro-government individuals, including arbitrary imprisonment, sexual violence, torture, and persecution on political grounds. This is a historic announcement, making Venezuela the first country in the Americas to face a formal ICC investigation. But it will be a long, slow process. The FFM, meanwhile, continues to gather evidence that contributes to the ICC investigation, and to make its findings public in the hope of disincentivizing further crimes.
This work of the FFM is vital, but its mandate is in jeopardy. In its session currently underway, the UN Human Rights Council will face a vote over whether to extend the Mission’s mandate, or to let it expire. In recent months, the Maduro government has attempted to showcase advances in certain cases to argue against the need for both the FFM and the ICC investigation, but they are actually limited and insufficient advancements.
In the Pernalete case, for instance, prosecutors initially signaled 13 members of the National Guard as responsible in 2021, but only brought formal charges of involuntary homicide against two of them – not including, according to the Pernaletes’ lawyers, the official who likely pulled the trigger. The Maduro government appears to be betting on the international community losing interest in cases like these, and generally paying less attention to human rights violations in Venezuela. Meanwhile, human rights defenders in the country regularly point to the FFM, alongside the ICC investigation, as essential in preventing even deeper repression and persecution. For this reason, it is essential that the FFM’s mandate is renewed, and that the United States and other members of the UN Human Rights Council ensure that the experts can continue their vital work.
In recent months, the US and other international stakeholders have focused efforts on advancing negotiations between the Maduro government and the political opposition in Venezuela with the hope of reestablishing democracy in the country. These efforts are important, and should continue with a view towards incorporating justice. Without justice for those found responsible for the grave human rights violations and crimes against humanity documented by the Fact-Finding Mission, there can be no meaningful solution to Venezuela’s crisis.
Evidence of the earliest use of the narcotic opium has been found in an ancient burial site in Israel.
Traces were discovered by archaeologists in pottery vessels at the complex in Yehud, about 11km (7 miles) south-east of Tel Aviv.
They say the containers date back about 3,400 years, apparently having been used in local burial rituals.
The site was used by inhabitants during the period when the land was known as Canaan.
The vessels had been unearthed in 2012 when the site was excavated by the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), but the latest findings are the result of a new study by the IAA, Tel Aviv University and The Weizmann Institute of Science.
It is believed the opium was grown in what is modern-day Turkey and brought to Yehud via Cyprus. The receptacles themselves were made in Cyprus, the report says. Described as Base-Ring juglets, they were part of a number of pottery vessels thought to have been given to accompany the dead into the afterlife.
They are shaped like inverted closed poppy flowers, which had long ago given rise to the hypothesis that such vessels were used in rituals for the drug. The discovery at Tel Yehud marks the first time actual traces have been found in this type of jug.
“It may be that during these ceremonies, conducted by family members or by a priest on their behalf, participants attempted to raise the spirits of their dead relatives in order to express a request, and would enter an ecstatic state by using opium,” said Dr Ron Beeri of the IAA.
“Alternatively, it is possible that the opium, which was placed next to the body, was intended to help the person’s spirit rise from the grave in preparation for the meeting with their relatives in the next life.”
‘Cannabis burned during worship’ by ancient Israelites – study
Ancient Israelites burned cannabis as part of their religious rituals, an archaeological study has found.
A well-preserved substance found in a 2,700-year-old temple in Tel Arad has been identified as cannabis, including its psychoactive compound THC.
Researchers concluded that cannabis may have been burned in order to induce a high among worshippers.
This is the first evidence of psychotropic drugs being used in early Jewish worship, Israeli media report.
The temple was first discovered in the Negev desert, about 95km (59 miles) south of Tel Aviv, in the 1960s.
In the latest study, published in Tel Aviv University’s archaeological journal, archaeologists say two limestone altars had been buried within the shrine.
Thanks in part to the dry climate, and to the burial, the remains of burnt offerings were preserved on top of these altars.
Frankincense was found on one altar, which was unsurprising because of its prominence in holy texts, the study’s authors told Israeli newspaper Haaretz.
However, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), cannabidiol (CBD) and cannabinol (CBN) – all compounds found in cannabis – were found on the second altar.
The study adds that the findings in Tel Arad suggest that cannabis also played a role in worship at the Temple of Jerusalem.
This is because at the time the shrine in Arad was part of a hilltop fortress at the southern frontier of the Kingdom of Judah, and is said to match a scaled-down version of Biblical descriptions of the First Temple in Jerusalem.
The remains of the temple in Jerusalem are now inaccessible to archaeologists, so instead they study Arad and other similar shrines to help them understand worship at the larger temple.
The Kremlin-backed referendums could give Russia renewed power in the conflict.
Russian-controlled regions of eastern and southern Ukraine announced plans Tuesday, September 20, to start voting this week to become integral parts of Russia. The concerted and quickening Kremlin-backed efforts to swallow up four regions could set the stage for Moscow to escalate the war against Ukrainian forces successfully battling to wrest back territory.
The announcements of referendums starting Friday in the Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and partly Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhia regions came after a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin said votes were needed, as Moscow loses ground in the war that began nearly seven months ago.
Former President Dmitry Medvedev said folding regions into Russia itself would make redrawn frontiers “irreversible” and enable Moscow to use “any means” to defend them. The votes, in territory Russia already controls, are expected with near-certainty to go Moscow’s way but are unlikely to be recognized by Western governments backing Ukraine with military and other support.
Luhansk and Donetsk together form much of the Donbas region, which has been gripped by separatist fighting since 2014 and which President Putin has set as a primary objective of the Russian invasion. In Donetsk, separatist leader Denis Pushilin said the “long-suffering people of the Donbas have earned the right to be part of the great country that they always considered their motherland.”
He added that the vote will help “restore historic justice that millions of the Russian people were waiting for.
Pressure within Russia and from Moscow-backed leaders in Russian-controlled regions of Ukraine for votes to pave their way to becoming Russian increased in the wake of a Ukrainian counteroffensive – bolstered by Western-supplied weaponry – that is recapturing large areas of previously Russian-occupied territory.
In another signal that Russia is digging in for a protracted and possibly ramped-up conflict, the Kremlin-controlled lower of house of parliament voted on Tuesday to toughen laws against desertion, surrender and looting by Russian soldiers. Lawmakers also voted to introduce possible 10-year prison terms for soldiers refusing to fight. If approved, as expected, by the upper house and then signed by Mr. Putin, the legislation would strengthen commanders’ hands against failing morale reported among soldiers.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Tuesday that there are no prospects for a diplomatic settlement. Mr. Medvedev, the deputy head of Russia’s Security Council chaired by Mr. Putin, said on his messaging app channel that votes in separatist regions are important to protect their residents and “restore historic justice” and would “completely change” Russia’s future trajectory.
“After they are held and the new territories are taken into Russia’s fold, a geopolitical transformation of the world will become irreversible,” said Mr. Medvedev, who served as Russia’s president from 2008-2012.
Almost seven months after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, areas under Moscow’s control have announced plans for urgent so-called referendums on joining Russia.
Russia’s invasion has stalled in recent months and Ukraine has recaptured swathes of territory in the north-east.
Now Russian-backed officials in the east and south say they want votes on annexation starting this week.
Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, after a vote widely condemned as a sham.
The international community has never recognised the annexation but it has long been clear that Russia intends to rubber-stamp its takeover of other occupied regions in the same way.
The deputy head of Russia’s security council, Dmitry Medvedev, said early on Tuesday that holding votes in the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk – also known as Donbas – would correct “historical justice” and be irreversible: “After the amendments to the constitution of our state, no future leader of Russia, no official will be able to reverse these decisions.”
Soon afterwards the two breakaway Russian-backed authorities in Donetsk and Luhansk said they would stage votes on 23-27 September. They were both recognised as independent by President Vladimir Putin three days before Russian troops invaded Ukraine from north, east and south.
Russian-installed officials in the southern region of Kherson said they would also hold a vote, and a similar declaration came from Russian-occupied areas of Zaporizhzhia.
For months, Russian-installed authorities have tried to organise self-styled referendums, but the continuing war has made holding them impractical. Ukraine’s counter-offensives have made it harder still.
While most of Luhansk has been in Russian hands since July, on Monday, the Ukrainian leader in Luhansk announced that the army had recaptured the village of Bilohorivka.
Much of Donetsk remains under Ukrainian control, although Russia has seized the coastal strip along the Sea of Azov.
Although Russian forces quickly captured Kherson at the start of the war, Ukrainian forces have regained some territory and Russian-installed authorities have faced repeated attacks. Earlier attempts to hold a vote there were postponed.
Much of Zaporizhzhia is still under Ukrainian control, including the regional capital of the same name. Even though the 2014 vote in Crimea was widely rejected as illegal and boycotted by a large number of residents, Russia’s military were in control of the peninsula.
Ukrainian forces are not far away from the city of Donetsk and on Monday the Russian-backed mayor accused them of shelling the city, killing at least 13 people.
Any attempt to further annex sovereign Ukrainian territory is bound to infuriate leaders in Kyiv and destroy any hope of a negotiated solution.
Ukrainian defence ministry adviser Oleksiy Koptyko suggested they were a “sign of hysteria” in Moscow. Respected Russian analyst Tatiana Stanovaya saw the latest move as an “unequivocal ultimatum” from Russia to Ukraine and the West, and that if they did not react appropriately Russia would fully mobilise its armed forces for war.
There have been growing calls from some quarters for full mobilisation of Russian forces. At present, Vladimir Putin has described the invasion as a “special military operation”.
In a separate development, the lower house of Russia’s parliament backed long sentences for crimes committed during military mobilisation or combat, including going absent without leave (AWOL), desertion and voluntary surrender.
In a sign that the Kremlin was preparing to back the so-called referendums, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that from the start of the operation Russia had wanted residents to have the decision: “The whole current situation confirms that they want to be masters of their fate.”
The change in mood comes only hours after Turkey’s president said the Russian leader was looking for a way out of the war. “He is actually showing me that he’s willing to end this as soon as possible,” he told US network PBS.
He also said 200 “hostages” would soon be exchanged between the two sides. He gave no further detail of who would be included in such a prisoner swap.
President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Monday night “the occupiers are clearly in a panic”.
When pianist Glenn Gould created a pioneering radio documentary on The Idea of North, the music he chose to embody this was Sibelius – naturally. Few composers conjure up such immediate images: chill clear air, glittering snowfields, foggy autumnal marshes, the fresh radiance of the swift Northern spring. His memorial in Helsinki broods appropriately over a granite outcrop among rolling seaside birch-woods. Saying his music captured such archetypal northern landscapes sounds like a cliché; yet even serious commentators talk of his ‘cool Northern colours’ and evocation of nature.
Those who know Finland would agree. Take its peculiarly potent dawn and evening light, luminous bands of red, gold and grey across the horizon – in the finale of Night-Ride and Sunrise these colours seem to blaze out of chilly grey infinities of shadow. Yet how true can this be? Music, after all, isn’t visual; it can only suggest images, not define them. For all the analysis inflicted on Sibelius’s music, this magic Northern quality has received little attention or been ascribed to formative influences. But that’s to ignore a major element of his genius.
He certainly did not inherit it from predecessors like Pacius or contemporaries like Kajanus. Finnish composers were generally despatched to Germany to have provinciality drilled out of them; as was Sibelius. After study in Berlin and Vienna with minor masters including Fuchs and Goldmark, he might have been expected to return as another worthy Teutonic clone. Instead, a vividly individual new work blazed like a beacon in a Finland struggling to preserve its identity under Russian hegemony – a choral symphony drawn from the national epic, the Kalevala, and its tragic anti-hero Kullervo.
The success of Finland’s first musical masterpiece allowed Sibelius to marry Aino Järnefelt, daughter of an artistic nationalist family, and set him at the forefront of both musical and national ideals. In succeeding works, including En Saga, the Four Legends, what eventually became Finlandia, and his first mature symphony, he developed that individual voice still further.
With hindsight we can detect traces of Bruckner in Kullervo, and Tchaikovsky’s sombre orchestral palette. In the First Symphony, too, one hears elements of the Pathétique, which linger in the Second and the Violin Concerto, but he is already striking out towards a more luminescent sound in the Third. After the Fourth, he famously remarked that while contemporary European composers were concocting multi-coloured cocktails, he offered a drink of pure spring water. In his later symphonies, the epic Fifth, pastoral Sixth and close-knit, classical Seventh, external influences have long since dissipated.
Nor, as Sibelius himself pointed out, did his sound originate in Finnish folk music. When working on Kullervo he travelled to Porvoo, north of Helsinki, to hear the great runo singer Larin Paraske, noting her inflections and rhythms; and listening to archival runo recordings, something of their spare, chanting lines and kantele accompaniment is detectable. More probably, though, we’re hearing the music of Finnish itself, which he was still learning when he wrote Kullervo, plus Kalevala verse. Its rolling sonorities and pulsing rhythms pervade not only vocal settings like Luonnotar but the orchestral tone poems such as Pohjola’s Daughter. But Luonnotar’s awesome depiction of the Kalevala creation myth’s infinite grey skies and seas demonstrates how those orchestral hues were rooted in nature.
Sibelius’s overt nature painting was extraordinary. The icy swirling gusts that blow through the strings in Lemminkainen in Tuonela and the rush of the forest storm swirling the leafmould in Tapiola have an awesome force, the misty waves of The Oceanides and the auroral night in Oma Maa (Our Homeland) an ethereal beauty.
In 1909, Sibelius took a trip with his artist brother-in-law Eero Järnefelt to the Koli mountain region where he found spiritual renewal in developing musical ideas. These he incorporated into the Fourth Symphony. Yet it’s impossible to isolate any such literal imagery in the score, and when a critic invented a detailed programme depicting the Koli country, Sibelius was cheerfully derisive. What he does seem to have incorporated is his own response to the natural vision – as if for him there was no barrier between sight, sound and feeling. He described Night-Ride and Sunrise’s nature imagery in emotional terms – a man riding through the forest, both enjoying and awed by solitude, ‘but thankfully rejoicing in dawn and daybreak’.
This is significant. Under the granitic exterior he cultivated, Sibelius was actually desperately thin-skinned, craving company and stimulation (including drink) but also prey to creative insecurity and black depression – almost morbidly sensitive to everything around him. This sensitivity was surely heightened by an unusual condition of mind, still scarcely understood but often linked with creativity. Synaesthesia causes its sufferers to interpret one sense in terms of others. Sibelius had it. He could ‘hear’ colours, and perhaps also ‘feel’ them.
It’s not unreasonable to believe, therefore, that Sibelius experienced any powerful image or emotion in at least partly musical terms, quite directly. One wonders, though, what form other sensations might have taken. In his diaries Sibelius often describes his feelings of depression and isolation in terms of night and blackness; and in the Kalevala the far north was a place of dark and icy evil. Tapiola’s swirling winds may all too accurately reflect an inner landscape, a North of the soul. We might see this in his advancing age, when self-criticism and unhappiness with the world and musical fashion caused an almost completed Eighth Symphony and other works to end up on the fire. In the end, he found peace in silence.
The bald eagle is the largest bird of prey in Canada. Its wingspan reaches an impressive 178 to 229 cm. The continent’s largest winter population of bald eagles can be found along the banks of Alaska’s late-freezing Chilkat River. The boreal forests of Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and northwestern Ontario are also home to nesting populations. The great bald eagle is present in a number of states in the U.S. and lives exclusively in North America. It can be seen in large trees, on high cliffs, on lake shores, on the banks of major rivers, and along coastlines.
This bird’s nest measures 1.5 to 2 m in diameter and about one meter high—the largest bird nest in North America. The bald eagle has keen vision, but its hearing is probably comparable to that of humans. Some eagles are monogamous, and in captivity they can live up to 50 years. This bird of prey feeds on living and dead fish, birds, and occasionally mammals. The length of the bird is 79 to 94 cm.
Le pygargue à tête blanche est identifié comme le plus gros oiseau de proie au Canada. Ses ailes déployées, il obtient une envergure qui se situe entre 178 et 229 cm. C’est en Alaska, le long de la rivière Chilkat, dont les eaux gèlent tardivement, que l’on peut observer le plus important rassemblement hivernal de pyrargues sur le continent. Les forêts boréales de l’Alberta, de la Saskatchewan, du Manitoba et du nord-ouest de l’Ontario abritent des populations nicheuses. Présent dans plusieurs états américains, ce grand oiseau ne vit qu’en Amérique du Nord. On peut l’observer dans les grands arbres et les falaises, en bordures des lacs et des grands cours d’eau ou sur la côte.
Le nid de cet oiseau a un diamètre qui se situe entre 1,5 et 2 mm et dont la hauteur est d’environ 1 mètre. Le plus gros nid d’oiseau que l’on puisse trouver en Amérique du Nord. Le pygargue possède une vue exceptionnelle et l’ouie est probablement comparable à celle des humains. Certains pygargues peuvent former des couples pour la vie et en captivité, ils peuvent vivre jusqu’à 50 ans. Cet oiseau de proie se nourrit de poissons vivants ou morts, d’oiseaux et de mammifères à l’occasion. La longueur de l’oiseau est de 79 à 94 cm.
Musée de la civilisation, collection du Séminaire de Québec, The Birds of America, John James Audubon, 11/1993.34611
Spanish team translates 10,000 inscriptions at the UNESCO World Heritage Site in Granada
Propaganda has always been a potent tool for the powers that be. In 13th-century southern Spain, or Al Andalus, under Muslim rule, the Nasrid dynasty made full use of it, spelling out its messages in ornate engravings on the walls, columns, arches, fountains and ceilings of the magnificent Alhambra Palace and gardens complex in Granada.
Thanks to the painstaking work of a Spanish academic, we now know that most of the 10,000 inscriptions adorning the city are not, as was once thought, just snippets of poetry or extracts from the Koran, but are also references to conquests and other feats.
It’s hard to find an inch that is free from inscription in the Alhambra
José Castilla Brazales, researcher
But the most common engraving is the Nasrid motto “Wa-la galib illa Allah”, meaning: “There’s no greater conqueror than Allah,” a reminder to mortals of who was in power.
So says Juan Castilla Brazales, an expert in Arab history and culture at Spain’s elite CSIC School of Arabic Studies, who has catalogued most of the epigraphs with the help of a team of 12 aides after a laborious process that involved locating each inscription, translating it into Spanish and English, linking it to similar inscriptions, photographing and drawing it.
“It’s hard to find an inch that is free from inscription in the Alhambra,” says Castilla. “Even the muqarnas [decorative form of vaulting] sometimes have inscriptions on them. I’ve spent hours searching for epigraphs on the ceilings with my binoculars.”
Unlike European palaces and cathedrals, Arabic décor avoids human or animal motifs. Nasrid decorations rely on geometric and floral shapes and, in the absence of sculpture, on calligraphy, according to Castilla.
“The Alhambra is not covered in poems or Koranic verses, because one of the main goals of the décor was to reinforce identity,” he says. “It was a kind of advertising.”
Hence there are frequent references praising Allah, such as “Thanks be to Allah” or “Glory to Allah”. To a lesser degree, there are brief inscriptions promoting abstract concepts such as happiness and glory, as well as blessings and phrases lauding the monarchy. Last of all, there are inscriptions from the Koran and poetry from some of the most brilliant scribes of the age.
Juan Castilla and his team are now celebrating the completion of a work 500-year-old work in progress: after the Christian conquest of Granada in 1492, and with it the end of Arab rule in Spain, the Alhambra attracted sightseers intrigued by the meaning of the inscriptions. Translations were made of many of the poems, but not of the smaller epigraphs. The first attempts were made by local physician Alonso del Castillo in 1564.
But Castilla wanted to complete the task, leaving no stone unturned. “I wasn’t content with just the inscriptions that are in plain view. I sought them all out.”
The inscriptions in the Alhambra are written in classical Arabic, making them difficult for someone only familiar with modern Arabic to read. “It’s an ornamental calligraphy with floral flourishes that make reading it harder,” says Castilla.
There are three types of letters – Kufic, from Kufa in Iraq, was the first and is considered sacred due to its historical role in copying the Koran. It was swapped for italics until Granada’s artisans came up with a geometric form, which, according to Castilla, suggests a creative maturity in Andalusia’s most valuable contribution to Islamic art.
He found inscriptions in cellars, under stairs and in places that hadn’t been touched for centuries. Asked if there is a link between each inscription and its location, Castilla explains that each sultan wanted to leave his mark and designed spaces according to the chosen epigraph. At times, quotes were invented for the occasion and in some other cases, familiar texts were used.
The catalogue of inscriptions has been collected in the Epigraphic Corpus of the Alhambra, a set of eight bilingual books and interactive DVDs that explain the ins and outs of each inscription – its location, translation and context, accompanied by photos and drawings.
The Spanish University Publishers’ Association has just awarded the translations the distinction of being the best national book edition in digital format. Reynaldo Fernández, director of the Alhambra and Generalife Trust and publisher of the work, hopes to have the final two book-DVDs on sale during the first half of 2017, thereby bringing to the light of day the last of the Alhambra’s secrets.
Young people are using the addictive video platform to perform searches that were traditionally done on Google
Not very long ago, it appeared that Google was so consolidated that it was going to be invincible. But now, members of Generation Z – those born at the end of the 1990s and the beginning of the 2000s – are turning their backs on the search engine, using TikTok as a substitute.
This trend has not gone unnoticed by Google: Prabhakar Raghavan, a senior vice president at the company, has acknowledged that, according to his internal studies, 40% of Gen Zs use TikTok or Instagram – rather than Google – to search for information
“Before, whenever I had a doubt about something, I immediately went to Google, but now I go to TikTok first, because I trust it more and because of the content’s quality. Only when I’m not convinced, or when I don’t find what I’m looking for, do I use Google… and the truth is, that happens rarely,” admits Rosa Rodríguez, a 22-year-old TikTok user.
Like Rodríguez, millions of other young people turn to the Chinese platform rather than Google. They prefer TikTok, above all, because of speed… but also because, rather than having to read text, a TikTok video usually sums up info in a few seconds.
Dejen de buscar soluciones a todo por Google. Ahora tenemos tiktok.— ✨fred at midnight✨ (@muchambre) August 14, 2022
Fátima Martínez, a social media consultant and author of The TikTok Book, explains that this platform has revolutionized everything:
“This is a totally different generation from the previous ones. TikTok gives you one minute videos, where they tell you at full-speed something you want to know. For example, with restaurant searches, you can go to Google and find what people think and see four photos, but [on] TikTok, you see videos of people who are in the restaurant, see what they eat, how they eat it, if the environment is pretty or not… these young people are much more used to everything visual, and they’re very lazy when it comes to seeking information.”
However, for Ubaldo Cuesta, a professor of communications at the Complutense University of Madrid, this trend is not exclusive to young people: “As the Polish philosopher Bauman said, we are moving towards liquid modernity and superficial thinking. Why is this
happening? In the first place, because thinking tires a person out – looking at a picture is easier, no? It’s much easier to move towards a liquid society – with constant mobility and change – than to move towards a society of reflection and thought.”
Cuesta says that young people have become “what Giovanni Sartori – the Italian political scientist – calls the Homo videns: man who lives by the image.”
“The brain is fundamentally visual and reacts very well to this type of stimuli… so, like television, TikTok very easily captures our attention,” the professor explains.
While the visual element doesn’t necessarily come at a high speed on long-form video platforms like YouTube, brevity is often the common feature of everything uploaded to TikTok. It’s very difficult to find a 10-minute-long video… the most common ones usually last for only a few seconds.
Martínez believes that “children try to run away from the real world because they don’t like it and they don’t see a future. They don’t think in terms of the future, but in the now… they have become accustomed to everything being very fast.”
According to data from software developer HubSpot, Gen Zs prefers to learn new things through video rather than through text or other traditional formats. In addition, they pay attention to content for an average of only eight seconds.
For Cuesta, this has a very important relationship with carpe diem and the search for diversion, something that the educator Neil Postman discussed in his bestselling book, Amusing ourselves to death (1985), a work that critiqued the general public’s addiction to amusement.
According to a study by Ofcom – the communications regulatory authority for the United Kingdom – the top three sources of information (and not just entertainment) for young people and teenagers are currently Instagram, TikTok and YouTube. However, José Luis Sanz, a 19-year-old TikTok user, argues that he continues using the Google search engine and reading about sports in print newspapers. He only uses videos for technical explanations or product reviews.
“I’m traditional,” he explains. Similarly, Sofía, a 16-year-old TikTok user, also continues to use Google to search for information.
Rodríguez explains that, unlike traditional search engines, she believes that TikTok offers “immediacy and proximity to the sender.”
“[The videos] offer content with much more understandable language, they generate more trust than a piece of text on Google – [the influencers] offer a reciprocal relationship,” she adds.
Professor Cuesta insists that the fact that there are “so many evaluators” (users who review and analyze services or products) on platforms like TikTok or YouTube “matches today’s society, which no longer trusts authority or institutions, but rather trusts a friend. [Gen Zs] prefer someone appearing on camera giving a succinct explanation, as if they are an acquaintance of theirs.”
Martínez notes that AI is powering TikTok’s content, totally changing the mentality of users. “TikTok shows you what you want to see. It’s totally addictive and it’s designed to be, in such a way that you are scrolling through videos vertically at full-speed. Google [is going to have] no choice but to adapt.
Russia’s army was thought to be vastly superior. But Ukraine has nevertheless managed to secure an almost unbelievable coup, taking back huge swaths of territory in the northeast. Can Ukraine actually win?
Alexander Sarovic was in touch with Ukrainian special forces for months. The DER SPIEGEL reporter wanted to know if it would be possible to accompany the troops to the front. At the beginning of the week, Sarovic was finally able to meet up with the unit in southern Ukraine, together with photographer Maxim Dondyuk. They slept on cots in a farmer’s home with an outhouse that had been repurposed as a base of operations. When Russian Su-25 fighter-bombers flew sorties nearby, the reporters weren’t the only ones to grow nervous – the soldiers did too.
The sappers at the village entrance, their search devices in hand, warn the visitors: Stay out of the fields. The booby traps that the Russians may have hidden in them are difficult to see, they say.
Military vehicles are rushing past, leaving the sign marking the city limits of Balakliya behind, a small town in northeastern Ukraine that was once home to 27,000 residents. A dark-haired Ukrainian soldier who goes by the nom de guerre “Mechanic” is standing on the first parcel of land at the edge of town. He looks exhausted. The Russians, he says, maintained a military base here, pointing at the remains of a small house with olive-green crates stacked up in front of it. They’re full of Russian munitions.
The article you are reading originally appeared in German in issue 38/2022 (September 17th, 2022) of DER SPIEGEL.SPIEGEL International
Someone has sprayed a “Z” in dark-colored paint on the wall, the symbol of the Russian war of aggression. Right next to it is a bit of graffiti that can best be translated as: “Hunter of Ukrainian soldiers.” Balakliya, which lies on the Siverskyi Donets river, spent six months under Russian occupation. A few days ago, though, Ukrainian troops were able to liberate the town, one of many in the Kharkiv region from which Russian soldiers have fled. Ultimately, it was the Ukrainian troops who did the hunting.
Mechanic, who belongs to the 25th Brigade, arrived in Balakliya on Sept. 6 to secure the town. He pulls out his mobile phone and shows a photo of two dead Russian soldiers. They tried to escape, he says, but didn’t make it. Others, though, did manage to get out in time, but “they left all kinds of equipment behind,” including a brand-new Typhoon, a Russian armored personnel carrier.
An Unbelievable Surprise Attack
The adjacent plot of land provides an impression of what the Ukrainians found during their Kharkiv offensive: In the ruins of an ammunition dump, there are several Russian Grad rockets lying about. Meanwhile, Ukrainian soldiers are driving past on the streets of Balakliya in Russian army trucks. Most of the weapons left behind by the occupiers, though, have long since been deployed elsewhere on the front lines, says an army medic from the 71st Brigade who goes by the name “Vira.” The haul includes battle tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, Grad launchers and other armored vehicles, all of which the Ukrainians are now using.
As lightning fast as the advance of the Ukrainians in Balakliya and elsewhere was, they didn’t get away without casualties of their own. Not far from a bridge lies a destroyed military vehicle belonging to the Ukrainian special forces, charred and almost grotesquely twisted. Vira says that their own ranks suffered several casualties and quite a few wounded. “But what do you expect? It’s war.” He says he saw far more dead Russians.
A destroyed Russian military base in Balakliya: “They left all kinds of equipment behind.” Foto: Maxim Dondyuk / DER SPIEGEL
The town of Balakliya was liberated by Ukraine’s astonishing counteroffensive. Foto: Maxim Dondyuk / DER SPIEGEL
Such is the situation in Balakliya and much of the Kharkiv region: In the last two weeks, Ukrainian units have managed to push up to 70 kilometers into Russian-occupied territory. According to the Institute for the Study of War, a think tank in the U.S., they managed to retake 9,000 square kilometers of land within just a few days. Kyiv has officially claimed that 4,000 square kilometers of that are under complete control. It seems almost unbelievable, but it looks as though Ukraine’s surprise attack has managed to throw out the allegedly second-strongest military in the world from the northeast of the country, sending Russian soldiers into a hasty and chaotic retreat.
A Strategic Masterstroke
Nine-thousand square kilometers is an area ten times larger than the city of Berlin. Not even the Ukrainian leadership under President Volodymyr Zelenskyy likely thought their military, in the attack launched on Sept. 6, would be able to advance so quickly in the northeastern part of the country. Phillips O’Brien, a military expert at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, described it in the Atlantic as a “strategic masterstroke that military scholars will study for decades to come.”
The Russian military, widely considered before the invasion to be vastly superior, has now, at the hand of the Ukrainians, suffered one of the most painful defeats it has experienced in decades. Ed Arnold, a military expert with the British think tank Rusi, calls it “one of the greatest counteroffensives since the Second World War.” And the victory in the northeast could ultimately accelerate the Ukrainian offensive in the south as well. In Moscow, the atmosphere has changed significantly, becoming more toxic. More and more hardliners are demanding that the Kremlin begin calling the “special military operation” a war and begin recruiting fresh soldiers.
Ukrainian special forces fire mortar shells at Russian positions near Kherson. Foto:
Maxim Dondyuk / DER SPIEGEL
The battlefields of the Kharkiv region have also made it clear in recent days just how significant the effect of Western support has been. The HIMARS multiple rocket launchers from the U.S. have been devastating, and the German self-propelled howitzers and Gepard anti-aircraft tanks have also proved extremely helpful during the advance. Furthermore, it has become clear just how important U.S. intelligence was for the offensive. Washington, though, has graciously said that the battlefield successes have been due entirely to the Ukrainian leadership, which led its comparatively small force to a grand victory in Kharkiv.
But what came as a surprise to many observers, and apparently to the Russians as well, was actually the result of meticulous planning, as reported by the New York Times. The strategy behind the offensive that has thus far been so successful was developed over a period of several months by Ukrainian and American military planners – and culminated in a strategic bluff.
A burned-out Russian armored vehicle in the Kharkiv region Foto: Maxim Dondyuk / DER SPIEGEL
When summer arrived, pressure began to grow rapidly on Zelenskyy. He was demanding more and more Western military help, but had yet to demonstrate to his backers in Europe and America, or to his own people, that the Ukrainian military could do more than just stand up to the enemy invaders, it could also push them back. Zelenskyy told his generals that he wanted to show in dramatic fashion that Ukraine could oust the Russians. Kyiv, after all, had also become concerned that Western support could begin to erode if the Ukrainian army didn’t soon grab back large swaths of land.
In response, Ukrainian generals developed a plan for an ambitious attack in the south. The goal: recapturing the city of Kherson and severing Russian supply lines from Mariupol, the Russian-occupied port city on the Sea of Azov. Skepticism was extremely high from the very beginning, with both Ukrainian generals and their American partners doubting that rapid advances could be made in the south, and they feared that what gains were achieved would come at a cost of significant casualties. They were concerned about yet another war of attrition, and simulations reinforced their fears that an offensive in the south would fail.
The U.S. military provided their Ukrainian allies with detailed information about where the Russian troops were stationed. They agreed that if any counteroffensive was going to be successful, it would have to start before the first snowfall, by the end of October at the latest. Anything after that would risk getting bogged down in the mud.
Throughout August, the U.S. provided Ukraine with ever increasing amounts of information about Russian positions, highlighting weaknesses and gaps in the Russian lines. The planners realized that Russia’s lines in the northeast were extremely thin, a function of the fact that Kyiv had publicly announced its plan to attack in the south. President Zelenskyy and his advisers spent months talking about their intention to liberate the politically and strategically important city of Kherson and the rest of the Russian-occupied territory west of the Dnieper River.
Moscow, of course, was listening, and Russian generals began concentrating their troops in the south. The Ukrainians, meanwhile, came to realize that it would be difficult for Moscow to react to an attack and quickly move sufficient troops and materiel back to Kharkiv in the northeast.
As a result, instead of a broad offensive, the Ukrainian military ultimately proposed an asymmetric dual strike: The one in the south in the surroundings of Kherson would make slow progress due to the number of Russian troops stationed in the area. But the second prong was planned for the area around Kharkiv. British, American and Ukrainian strategists grew increasingly certain that the plan might just work. Even if Russian Telegram groups had been full of warnings for more than a month of Ukrainian troops gathering in the Kharkiv region, they apparently didn’t see the broad offensive coming.
Shells belonging to Ukrainian special forces are prepared for combat. Foto: Maxim Dondyuk / DER SPIEGEL
A Ukrainian commander heads to the front lines in Kherson. Foto: Maxim Dondyuk / DER SPIEGEL
The Ukrainians deployed their most effective weapons to destroy bridges, ammunition depots and command posts along the Russian lines in the south near Kherson. For Putin’s generals, the fall of Kherson would be disastrous, and they did precisely what the Ukrainians had hoped they would: They sent their best troops to Kherson.
Even weeks before starting their offensive, the Ukrainians began launching preparatory strikes on both fronts. Salvos of missiles from HIMARS multiple rocket launchers repeatedly struck munitions depots and command posts far behind enemy lines in both the south and the north. In addition, the U.S. provided Ukraine – secretly at first – with AGM-88 HARM missiles, which engineers were able to mount on Ukraine’s Soviet-era MiG fighters despite their incompatibility.
The missiles home in on radar signals, such as those coming from air defense systems or other radar facilities, and quickly destroy them. The Ukrainians were thus able to weaken Russian defenses, with Putin’s troops operating essentially blind in some areas without radar and unable to adequately defend against Ukrainian air strikes. Furthermore, Russia – already suffering from chronically poor logistics – was hardly able to keep up supplies of ammunition to numerous positions.
Then, on Sept. 6, a Tuesday, the Ukrainians in the northeast set their offensive forces in motion.
Highly mobile units pushed forward to Balakliya, protected by the 14th and 92nd Mechanized Brigades, the 3rd and 4th Tank Brigades, the 25th Airborne Brigade and the 80th Air Assault Brigade, supported by special units and the Territorial Defense Forces. “The Ukrainians … seem to have built up a substantial, fast-moving strike force,” wrote O’Brien, the military expert, including combat brigades equipped with lighter and faster wheeled vehicles. “This has allowed them a crucial mobility advantage over their enemy.”
A Russian rocket that was left behind as the occupiers fled Foto: Maxim Dondyuk / DER SPIEGEL
Just one day later, the Ukrainians had already pushed 20 kilometers into occupied territory. And the Russians were literally running from the advancing units, which were poised to close a pincer between the border in the north and the city of Izyum to the south. The Russians repeatedly failed to mobilize air support or reinforcements, primarily because they were directly targeted by Ukrainian rockets and artillery.
It quickly became clear that the Russian command and control structures were either incredibly inefficient or didn’t work at all. They were fighting with disparate units that were entirely isolated from each other, and many of them began to disintegrate. Balakliya fell to the Ukrainians on Sept. 8. And the Ukrainian plan was slowly becoming clearer: They intended to march on Kupiansk in the east along the Oskil River in an effort to cut off the strategically important city of Izyum from Russian supply lines. At the same time, similar to their tactic in Kherson, they were pushing the Russians back against the river and thus cutting off their escape routes.
“Ukraine has managed to build up a significant mobile reserve force in the north,” says Justin Bronk of the London-based think tank Rusi. Ukrainian commanders, he says, were able to immediately send reinforcements as soon as Russian defensive lines were breached. “When its frontline forces managed to make a gap through the Russian front line, Ukrainian commanders were able to rapidly push reinforcements into that gap,” Bronk says. And when Russian reserve units did show up, such as in Shevchenkove, enough Ukrainian troops were already there to surround the Russians, he adds.
The result of the offensive was the complete collapse of Russian units in the Kharkiv region. On Sept. 9, the Ukrainians reached Kupiansk, and the strategically important Iyzum fell two days later. The retreat of Russian forces, it quickly became apparent, had been extremely chaotic, with large numbers of intact Russian tanks and other equipment lining the Ukrainians’ path.
A destroyed Russian armored personnel carrier Foto: Maxim Dondyuk / DER SPIEGEL
Indeed, the list of lost or destroyed materiel kept by the Oryx Blog reads like a document of complete failure: Fully 121 Russian tanks, 127 infantry fighting vehicles, 103 troop carriers, 74 artillery pieces, 26 armored recovery vehicles, 11 air defense systems, 99 trucks and five airplanes fell into Ukrainian hands. British intelligence believes that Russian losses were so significant that the country’s defensive abilities will be affected for years to come.
Putin’s plan of taking the entirety of the Donbas now appears to have become impossible through the loss of transportation routes and defensive positions. Instead, the Ukrainians are now advancing on the cities of Lysychansk and Lyman, both of which they were forced to abandon several months ago.
Plummeting Combat Effectiveness
The collapse of the Russian front in Kharkiv “reflects the structural problems with manpower and low morale in an overstretched Russian military,” Michael Kofman, research program director of the Russia Studies Program at the Center for Naval Analyses, a research institute belonging to the U.S. Navy, told the Washington Post recently. “The Russian military’s approach is fundamentally unsustainable.” The Russian army, he continues, is exhausted, its combat effectiveness is plunging, and soldiers are terminating their service as soon as they can.
Is Putin in the process of losing a war to a much smaller and weaker country? Or can Russian troops regain the upper hand? Kofman says that a partial mobilization in Russia and the recruitment of fresh troops with an eye toward next year could improve Russia’s fortunes. The war, he warns, is far from over. In the short term, though, Kofman says, Russia lacks the strength to defend occupied territory in southern Ukraine from counteroffensives while concurrently making progress in the Donbas.
Ben Hodges, the former commander of U.S. Army Europe, also spoke to the Washington Post, saying that the Russian military had reached what military theorist Carl von Clausewitz called the “culminating point,” the moment when an attacking force can no longer carry on.
For Ukraine, this collapse is almost more important politically than it is militarily. Zelenskyy, after all, doesn’t just have to keep up the morale in his own ranks, he also has to continually prove to Western detractors that victory is possible and that it is worth it to continue supporting Ukraine. Pressure is now growing on allied countries to quickly send more equipment that can be deployed this year and not next, says Ed Arnold, the British think tank analyst.
The Second Front
And more support remains a necessity. Some of Russia’s best troops are still fighting in the south where Ukraine’s second counteroffensive is underway. The offensive has always been more than just a pure feint, says Arnold. The analyst believes that the Ukrainians will now find success here as well. “Ultimately, there will be no more Russian troops west of the Dnieper anywhere in Ukraine,” he says. And it is possible that the Kherson offensive could herald the launch next year of an operation to reclaim the Crimea.
Ukrainian special forces in the Kherson region Foto: Maxim Dondyuk / DER SPIEGEL
A Ukrainian drone pilot Foto: Maxim Dondyuk / DER SPIEGEL
But even as the Russian lines collapsed in the northeast, the Ukrainian army has had a far tougher time of it in the south. In the border area between the regions of Kherson and Mykolaiv, the Ukrainians have only made extremely slow progress in recent weeks. They have only managed to retake a handful of villages and other settlements.
This Tuesday, along the narrow yet militarily important Inhulets River, it could be observed just how bitter the fighting has become. Members of a Ukrainian special forces unit have established their position in a broad valley full of pastureland.
Their grenade launcher has been assembled, dug in and camouflaged with branches. They have also excavated trenches nearby. From a rise, where only a sparse line of trees stands between them and the cameras of Russian drones, they look out across the endless fields. Members of the unit have asked not to be identified by name.
One of the soldiers, who goes by the nom de guerre “Kays,” flies his drone out over the settlements. After several attempts, he is able to identify suspicious movements: On the screen of his mobile phone, a handful of enemy fighters scamper across the street of a nearby village. He calls over two comrades to confirm what he saw while three others prepare the mortar shells – 120 millimeter projectiles, produced in the Czech Republic, the size of small bottles of cooking gas.
The hamlets and settlements in the area are deserted, with almost all of the region’s population having long since fled. Overnight, the Ukrainian army managed to retake another village within site of the special forces unit. The Russians, though, have begun to respond, with their artillery taking aim at the advancing Ukrainians and Su-25 fighters flying sorties overhead. The roar of the planes can be heard several times on this day, with thick, dark gray clouds of smoke rising from where their bombs fall to earth.
The commander of a drone unit that is also in action on the southern front estimates that there are around 24,000 Russian soldiers west of the Dnieper. Among them, he says, are numerous paratroopers, who are considered to be among the best that Russia has to offer. Their positions, the Ukrainians say, are extremely well fortified, some of them with concrete. But experts believe that these units are not at full strength and are short of both equipment and reserves.
Ukrainian officers and soldiers told DER SPIEGEL that the fighting in the region has been extremely tough. And yet morale remains high, because the soldiers are aware that the Russian troops on the western side of the Dnieper are in a precarious position. The bridges over the river can no longer be used for heavy equipment following weeks of being fired on, and the Ukrainians are quick to destroy pontoon bridges.
The Ukrainians “are forcing them to fight in a position that is militarily pretty indefensible,” says Justin Bronk, the think tank analyst. The attempt to hang on to Kherson, he continues, is a politically motivated decision made by the regime in Moscow. Kherson, the capital of the eponymously named region, was the only large city that the Russians were able to quickly conquer with no serious trouble – and it is the bridgehead to the port city of Odessa, which has thus far resisted the Russian invasion.
No Panic Yet
Kays and his comrades have managed to locate a fixed point around which the Russian troops appear to be orbiting. It seems to be a field kitchen in a village around five kilometers away. The Ukrainian soldiers send up a second drone to confirm the sighting and to ensure that there are no civilians in the area.
Mortar shells made in the Czech Republic Foto: Maxim Dondyuk / DER SPIEGEL
Special forces drive to the front on a combat mission. Foto: Maxim Dondyuk / DER SPIEGEL
Three-quarters of an hour later, the second drone pilot reports back. He confirms that it is, indeed, a field kitchen. And there’s more: The Russians appear to have established a command post in a two-story building near the kitchen. The mortar team fires an initial shell. There is a boom and a bright tongue of flame shoots out of the cannon, the shock wave extending for 10 meters. Then a second round is fired, and a third – a total of 19 shells. The others can monitor the strikes by drone, and they report four hits.
The special forces are packing up the mortar and the drones when one of them yells, “airplane!” This time, the roar is dangerously close and they sprint to the trenches they have dug. Then a column of smoke rises from the horizon. The Russian jet has luckily dropped its load quite some distance away.
A Collapse of Morale
Panic hasn’t yet broken out among the Russian forces in the south, says the deputy commander of the special forces unit operating along the Inhulets River. But it is only a matter of time before the defeat in the northeast will have an effect on Russian morale here in the south, he believes. He thinks that many Russian soldiers haven’t abandoned their posts only for fear of the punishment that might be awaiting them if they do. But as soon as entire units begin retreating, the situation will change. “They can’t punish entire battalions.”
In contrast to the northeast, the Ukrainians aren’t likely to attempt a rapid thrust here in the south. Such a move would likely produce a huge number of casualties, primarily because of the open landscape and the rainfall that is likely to set in soon.
There are military experts, though, who still believe that Ukraine has the momentum. “Russian morale has been on a steady decline,” says Ed Arnold from Rusi. Indeed, he thinks it can’t get much worse than it is now. If the Ukrainians are able to retake Kherson, says Justin Bronk, the Russian’s chances for victory are extremely low. “If you could cause a second collapse in Kherson, that would be strategically devastating for the Russians,” he says.
The developments in Ukraine have also had a significant effect back in Russia. Ever since the troops have run into difficulties and an increasing number of soldiers have been returning in coffins, calls in Moscow for an escalation have grown louder. And uneasiness is rising in Russian towns near the Ukrainian border.
The governor of the Russian region of Belgorod has begun reporting almost daily strikes on villages on the Russian side of the border. Officials have evacuated a number of towns, with residents being sheltered in the regional capital city Belgorod, while schools have been transferred further away from the border. On top of that are the almost 13,000 people who fled to Russia from the Kharkiv area, with many having received a Russian passport.
The atmosphere in the border regions in Russia is rather strange at the moment. In speaking to residents of Belgorod, it sounds a lot like many have grown used to the war raging outside their front doors. But some, after seven months of war, are beginning to sound worried.
Putin Remains Silent
Yevgeny Sokolov, a lawyer and human rights activist in Belgorod, says that many people are afraid and prefer to remain silent. “From the very beginning, it was clear that the military operation would be long and bloody,” says Sokolov, a former soldier who served in Afghanistan as a paratrooper. He describes having seen flashes of light in the sky above the center of the city one night in early July. Russian anti-aircraft defenses had apparently intercepted incoming missiles, with one of them being diverted into a residential area, he says. Five people were killed. Nevertheless, he continues, very few of the city’s residents know where to go for shelter. “What foolishness in such a situation,” he says. “As you can see, everything is going according to plan,” he adds in a deeply sarcastic tone.
Yevgeny Sokolov: “From the very beginning, it was clear that the military operation would be long and bloody.” Foto: Yevgeny Kondakov / DER SPIEGEL
Russian President Vladimir Putin, meanwhile, has been silent for days, as though everything in Ukraine was, in fact, proceeding according to plan. Last Saturday, he inaugurated a giant Ferris wheel in Moscow, honored medical workers for their service in battling the coronavirus and then traveled to Uzbekistan for a meeting with Chinese head of state Xi Jinping. He is eager to demonstrate that he still has friends in this world. But despite his efforts at normality, he won’t likely be able to conceal the fact that the situation in Russia is shifting.
The military defeat in Kharkiv came as an extreme disappointment to ultranationalists, hardliners and regime propagandists, in part because Ukraine is so much smaller than Russia and doesn’t possess any nuclear weapons. In response, Kremlin propagandists have once again started to insist that Russia isn’t fighting against Ukraine, but against Europe, the U.S. and NATO.
The first high-ranking politicians in Russia have begun using the word “war” to describe the conflict in Ukraine, even though it must still officially be referred to as a “special military operation.” And an increasing number of hardliners, like Gennady Sukhanov, the head of the Communist Party, have begun demanding that Russia call a general mobilization to allow for the recruitment of a huge number of fresh troops. Sukhanov has only recently joined those who have been calling for such a move for several months. Even state-run broadcasters have begun discussing “heavy losses” on live television.
Sergey Mironov, head of the party A Just Russia, said before parliament: “The time for general mobilization has come.” Not, though, he continued, for a military mobilization, but a mobilization in the minds of Russians, saying it is time to stop lying to the people. “Enough is enough! Only the truth and an honest evaluation of events will help us to victory.”
But Putin still wants to avoid a general mobilization, because doing so could upset a significant number of Russians. The Russian president has consistently sought to convey the feeling that the war has little to do with the population at large.
Now 15 birds have been released into Oolambeyan national park in the NSW Riverina region. It was protected in perpetuity in 2002 due to its high conservation value as critical habitat for the plains wanderer.
The release is part of a 10-year, $175m program involving the NSW, Victorian and South Australian governments in a collaborative effort to ensure the species’ survival.
It is the second release in NSW – the first saw 10 birds released near Hay in March. Sixteen were released in Victoria in 2021.
Researchers have long struggled to understand the movements of the birds in the wild – which is where the solar backpacks come in.
They have a two-year lifespan and will be tracked by satellite. Previously, tracking was limited by a 12-week battery life and the birds could only be followed with a transmitter in the field.
The NSW environment minister, James Griffin, said tracking their movements following release was “the culmination of work aimed at bringing the species back from the brink”.
“They’re a critical part of the ecosystem because their presence or absence is an indicator of the health of their native habitat,” Griffin said.
“These solar backpack-wearing plains wanderers are paving the way for us to gather important data, which will ultimately help us improve our conservation efforts for wild populations into the future.”
The birds in the current release were selected from breeding programs with 11 coming from Taronga Western Plains zoo in NSW, three from Monarto Safari Park in South Australia and one from Werribee Open Range zoo in Victoria.
The breeding program relies on birds from the captive population and can sometimes get creative. In one instance, a group of chicks was raised under the paternal care of a feather duster after their father stopped sitting on their eggs to keep them warm.
Six Australian birds you may never have heard of … and may not be heard from again
A landmark study has found one in six Australian birds are now threatened. Here are some of the species most likely to be headed to a museum, unless more is done
There seems to be a perversity to human nature, in that we don’t really care about wild creatures until there are so few left that we can put a name to them. Think Martha, the last passenger pigeon, or the haunting images of Benjamin the last thylacine, pacing around its cage at Hobart zoo in 1936.
The Action Plan for Australian Birds 2020 (released this week by CSIRO Publishing) bandies a lot of names of birds you may never have heard of, which are now classified as on the path to extinction – 214 to be exact, around one in six of Australia’s bird species and subspecies. It can all be too much to take in. So here is a guide to six birds of which there are so few left in the wild that we could easily remember them all if they had individual names.
While there are several birds, such as Coxen’s fig-parrot or the Tiwi hooded robin, that we can’t unequivocally prove still exist, the candidate for the lowest population of any Australian bird that we can count is this obscure little bird that streaks between spiky clumps of spinifex in a small area of mallee in the Cobar shire of western NSW.
Only officially identified in 2020 as a distinct subspecies of the more widespread striated grasswren (itself a threatened bird), the Mukkarthippi grasswren (pronounced mook-wah-tippy and meaning small bird of the spinifex in the local Ngiyampaa language) has only three or four pairs definitely known to survive and a total estimated population of not more than 20 birds.
Norfolk Island morepork
This small owl got as near to extinction as is possible to go, with only one female bird left on the entire island by 1988. The introduction of some males of its closest relative, the New Zealand morepork, saw a hybrid population develop to the extent that by 2019 there were thought to be between 25 and 50 birds on the island. However, only four pairs were known and since 2008 there have only been two successful breeding events observed. It is feared that most of the remaining birds are too old to breed, though the successful rearing of two chicks in 2019 gives some cause for hope.
Northern eastern bristlebird
While the southern subspecies of the eastern bristlebird has responded well to active conservation measures, its northern cousin has not been so lucky. In 2020 only 43 birds were known to exist, though a couple more may have been seen since then. This was up from a maximum of 30 reported in the 2010 action plan. It was feared all these gains were at risk in the 2019-20 bushfires, as these poor flyers often succumb to intense, large fires. (Though they do benefit from regular, small-intensity burns.) Fortunately, it seems the fires missed almost all remaining birds and the northern eastern bristlebird lives to scurry through the undergrowth another day.
King Island brown thornbill
Listed as the Australian bird most likely to become extinct in 2018, this unobtrusive little brown bird hadn’t been seen in a long time, until birdwatchers bumped into a couple around 2014. BirdLife Australia organised targeted searches and habitat assessments, initially by ANU researchers, which discovered about 50 remaining birds living across more of the island than the one small forest patch they were thought to have survived in. However, this good news is tinged with dread, as many of the new sites are in small patches on private land, all of which could be cleared due to a relaxation of vegetation protection laws.
Grey range thick-billed grasswren
This small, obscure, grey-brown ghost of the dusty saltbush plains of far western NSW was long thought extinct. Only rediscovered in 2008, the outlook was not rosy by the time of the 2010 action plan, with as few as five birds estimated to exist. Spurred by this grim scenario, BirdLife Australia funded an intense search effort – which met with success, with almost 60 birds now known to exist. But it is not out of the woods (saltbush) yet, as it faces threats from mining developments on the few properties where it is known to survive.
Possibly the most well-known of all our critically endangered birds, the orange-bellied parrot was the first Australian bird to have a recovery plan developed for it, back in 1984. Showing how conservation of extremely threatened species is a long game, by 2018 it was still considered the second most likely Australian bird to go extinct, after only two wild females successfully raised chicks in 2016 at their one remaining Tasmanian nesting site. However, things seemed to have finally turned the corner. After a couple of successful seasons, boosted by the release of dozens of captive-bred birds, 62 wild orange-bellied parrots have returned to the breeding grounds.
Sean Dooley is BirdLife Australia’s national public affairs manager
Israeli archaeologists on Sunday announced the “once-in-a-lifetime” discovery of a burial cave filled with dozens of pottery pieces and bronze artefacts.
Israeli archaeologists on Sunday, September 18, announced the “once-in-a-lifetime” discovery of a burial cave from the time of ancient Egyptian Pharaoh Rameses II, filled with dozens of pottery pieces and bronze artefacts.
The cave was uncovered on a beach Tuesday, when a mechanical digger working at the Palmahim national park hit its roof, with archaeologists using a ladder to descend into the spacious, man-made square cave.
In a video released by the Israel Antiquities Authority, gobsmacked archaeologists shine flashlights on dozens of pottery vessels in a variety of forms and sizes, dating back to the reign of the ancient Egyptian king who died in 1213 BC.
Bowls – some of them painted red, some containing bones – chalices, cooking pots, storage jars, lamps and bronze arrowheads or spearheads could be seen in the cave. The objects were burial offerings to accompany the deceased on their last journey to the afterlife, found untouched since being placed there about 3,300 years ago. At least one relatively intact skeleton was also found in two rectangular plots in the corner of the cave.
“The cave may furnish a complete picture of the Late Bronze Age funerary customs,” said Eli Yannai, an IAA Bronze Age expert. It is an “extremely rare… once-in-a-lifetime discovery”, Mr. Yannai said, pointing to the extra fortune of the cave having remained sealed until its recent uncovering.
‘Like an Indiana Jones movie’
The findings date to the reign of Rameses II, who controlled Canaan, a territory that roughly encompassed modern day Israel and the Palestinian territories. The provenance of the pottery vessels – Cyprus, Lebanon, northern Syria, Gaza and Jaffa – is testimony to the “lively trading activity that took place along the coast”, Eli Yannai said in an IAA statement.
Another IAA archaeologist, David Gelman, theorized as to the identity of the skeletons in the cave, located in what is today a popular beach in central Israel. “The fact that these people were buried along with weapons, including entire arrows, shows that these people might have been warriors, perhaps they were guards on ships – which may have been the reason they were able to obtain vessels from all around the area,” he said.
Regardless of who the inhabitants of the cave were, the find was “incredible,” said Gelman. “Burial caves are rare as it is, and finding one that hasn’t been touched since it was first used 3,300 years ago is something you rarely ever find,” he said.
“It feels like something out of an Indiana Jones movie: just going into the ground and everything is just laying there as it was initially – intact pottery vessels, weapons, vessels made out of bronze, burials just as they were.”
The cave has been resealed and is under guard while a plan for its excavation is being formulated, the IAA said. It noted that “a few items” had been looted from it in the short period of time between its discovery and closure.
In 1482, Leonardo da Vinci left his hometown of Florence for a new opportunity. He had managed to gain employment at the court of Milan, where Ludovico Sforza “Il Moro” reigned as the de facto duke. There, Leonardo painted one of his most remarkable portraits, a likeness of a teenaged girl named Cecilia Gallerani, who was Ludovico’s favorite mistress.
Although Leonardo da Vinci seems to have intended to work as a military engineer in Milan, none of the many military contraptions that Leonardo da Vinci sketched for Ludovico Il Moro seems to have been realized. When he began preparing sketches of Cecilia Gallerani inside the private chambers of the Castello Sforzesco, Leonardo da Vinci was trying to ensure his own place in the ducal palace by painting his most ambitious portrait to date.
Shortly after completing Cecilia Gallerani’s portrait, Leonardo would go on to paint his famous Last Supper in the refectory of Santa Maria delle Graziein Milan, under Ludovico’s patronage. Leonardo’s artistic success in the service of the court of Milan ultimately allowed the artist to return home to Florence with a new reputation as a world-class Renaissance man.
Who is that lady?
After spending many months researching Cecilia Gallerani and the circumstances of this portrait’s creation, I believe that Cecilia must have been a naïve yet tough young woman who had to fight to keep her place in the palace–and against those who wanted her out. Leonardo—a much older fellow Florentine more experienced with court intrigues—may have provided Cecilia with a few tools to navigate tricky situations inside the Milanese court.
Cecilia Gallerani, then about 16 years old, could have no idea how famous she would become. Cecilia originally came from a large Sienese family; her father worked as a petty diplomat at the Milanese court. Cecilia’s family was busy shuttling her off to a Milanese convent when somehow, she caught the eye of Ludovico Sforza. He holed Cecilia up behind the fortified walls of the Castello Sforzesco instead.
When Leonardo da Vinci began to capture Cecilia’s lively presence in paint, Ludovico was set to marry Beatrice d’Este, the daughter of the Duke of Ferrara. According to legend, Ludovico postponed the marriage more than once, allegedly because he was in love with Cecilia. By the time Leonardo finished the portrait, Ludovico and Beatrice were married; Cecilia was pregnant. Needless to say, the situation in the castle was untenable.
After Ludovico’s marriage to Beatrice, Cecilia left the ducal palace. Eventually, she caught the attention of another Ludovico, Count Ludovico Carminati de Brambilla, known as “Il Bergamino.” The son she bore with Ludovico Il Moro, Cesare Sforza Visconti, was dedicated to monastic life and became abbot of the Church of San Nazaro Maggiore in Milan. Cecilia also bore four more children with the second Ludovico.
After Cecilia Gallerani exited the ducal palace, Ludovico Il Moro set his sights on Lucrezia Crivelli, who bore him a son. Lucrezia may have been the subject of Leonardo da Vinci’s beautiful portrait called La Belle Ferronière, though the sitter’s identity is debated. However, the duke’s string of power plays and amorous pursuits was cut short. After bearing him two sons, his wife, Beatrice d’Este, died in childbirth at age twenty-one. Ludovico was soon overcome by the forces of Louis XII, who invaded Milan in 1499. He died as a prisoner of the French king in a dungeon at Loches Castle in 1508.
Cecilia’s story had a happier ending. She presided over one of the most celebrated courts of northern Italy, drawing artists, writers, nobles, and politicians from across Europe. Cecilia Gallerani became an esteemed author, musician, and patron of the arts. She lived to an old age and even befriended Beatrice’s older sister Isabella d’Este, one of the most influential women of the Italian Renaissance.
About the portrait
Cecilia’s bright, alert expression gives us the illusion of immediacy. It feels as if Cecilia’s attention has just been captured by something outside the frame of the painting, like a bird fluttering on the windowsill or someone appearing at the door. In stark contrast to the static profile portraits that were the norm at the time, Cecilia turns with a dynamic sense of liveliness. Originally, the background probably consisted of an atmospheric landscape similar to the one we see in Leonardo’s famous Mona Lisa; the background of Cecilia’s portrait was overpainted at some point before the nineteenth century.
Like Leonardo’s beautiful portrait of Ginevra de Benci, Cecilia’s likeness presents us with a combination of realism and allegory. The white ermine in her lap has formed the subject of much speculation. The ermine may be a play on Cecilia’s surname, which sounds similar to the Greek word for ermine. Traditionally, the white ermine was a symbol of purity; according to legend, it would rather die than soil its fur. In 1488, Ludovico also entered the chivalric Order of the Ermine, so it may have been a reference to Ludovico’s patronage and connection to Cecilia.
When Cecilia left the Castello Sforzesco and Ludovico Il Moro behind, it seems that she took Leonardo’s portrait with her. The picture passed through Cecilia’s heirs until it landed in the collection of a noble Polish family who traveled widely in Italy through the 1700s. The Czartoryski family carefully protected the picture, moving and hiding it during the instability of Russian threats of the nineteenth century–and then again during World War I.
But in 1939, the story of Cecilia’s portrait would take a dramatic—and dangerous—turn.
The Lady’s theft and recovery during WWII
Incredibly, the Lady with the Ermine became the object of desire of another powerful tyrant in the twentieth century. Hans Frank, who ultimately became the Nazi governor of Poland, set the portrait in his sights upon the German invasion of Poland in the autumn of 1939. By the end of World War II, the Nazis had either stolen or tried to steal every known painting by Leonardo da Vinci. The Lady with the Ermine was at the top of their list.
After Nazi soldiers located the picture hidden inside a walled-up compartment in one of the Czartoryski family’s country estates, the portrait soon became a pawn in an epic power struggle among several high-ranking Nazi officers. Between 1939 and 1945, the Lady traveled back and forth multiple times between Poland and Germany. It’s a wonder it survived at all.
When the Allies located Hans Frank at his Bavarian lakeside villa in May 1945, da Vinci’s Lady with the Ermine was among a handful of remaining masterpieces in Frank’s personal possession. During the Nuremberg Trials, Frank pled that he had done everything in his power to safeguard the art treasures.
At the same time, he was labeled “the butcher of Poland,” and was held in part responsible for the death of the staggering sum of six million innocent Polish people. Thanks to the efforts of the Allied Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives Program (the so-called Monuments Men) to save important European monuments and works of art, this picture was saved, restored, and returned.
Leonardo da Vinci’s portrait of Cecilia Gallerani returned to Poland after World War II, and was held under Communist rule in the collection of the Czartoryski Museum. In 1991, the painting was officially returned to the ownership of the Czartoryski family. It traveled extensively to exhibitions across Europe and America for the next two decades. In 2017, it was put on public display at the National Museum of Kraków, where it now inspires visitors from around the world.
Benjamin Britten in front of Stanton Cottage, Amityville, New York, c.1940–41. Image courtesy of the Britten-Pears Foundation (www.brittenpears.org). Ref: PH/1/70
Benjamin Britten is often described as the most important British composer since Henry Purcell (1659–95)
Britten’s work spans a diverse range of musical genres, from operas and string quartets to film music and solo songs. Instantly recognisable, his music is imbued with the spirit of his time and place, yet transcends cultural and geographical boundaries.
Britten was born on 22 November 1913 in the town of Lowestoft in Suffolk. He was taught the piano and viola, and started to write music at the age of five. Immensely prolific as a child, he produced some 800 distinct juvenile works before the age of 18. One of his earliest influences was the music of Frank Bridge, whose orchestral work The Sea created a lasting impression when Britten first heard it aged 11. A few years later he met Bridge and began to take composition lessons with him in the school holidays. Although Britten later studied composition with John Ireland at the Royal College of Music, Bridge was the key influence on his early musical development, a debt acknowledged in his Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge (1937). Even before he left the College in 1933, Britten’s music was beginning to be heard in the concert hall and on the radio. The Sinfonietta for string orchestra, for example, was first performed in 1933 and designated as his Op. 1.
In 1934 Britten met the tenor Peter Pears (1910-86), who inspired much of his music and with whom he formed a life-long relationship. The following year he also met the poet W H Auden (1907–73), who would become a major influence. Their most famous collaboration was the General Post Office film Night Mail(1936). Britten also provided music for Auden’s Our Hunting Fathers, a radical cycle of songs about man’s inhumanity to man, and for The Ascent of F6,a play by Auden and Christopher Isherwood. This featured the song ‘Funeral Blues’, which, with its opening words ‘Stop all the clocks’, later became famous as a poem. Auden and Isherwood travelled to the USA shortly before the outbreak of World War II, and Britten followed soon afterwards with Pears.
Britten and Pears returned to the UK in 1942, registering as conscientious objectors, and set up home in Suffolk. The first performance of Britten’s opera Peter Grimes at Sadler’s Wells on 7 June 1945 is regarded as a watershed moment in the history of opera in Britain, and cemented Britten’s international reputation. Also premiered in 1945, the Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra reflected Britten’s abiding concern for writing music accessible to young people. In 1948, Britten and Pears established the annual Aldeburgh Festival of Music and the Arts, where many of Britten’s works were first performed. In a series of church parables, beginning with Curlew River (1964), Britten fuses medieval plainchant with an approach to music and drama strong influenced by the stylised simplicity Japanese Noh theatre. Britten’s pacifist beliefs found powerful expression in the War Requiem, which was first performed on 30 May 1962 to mark the opening of the newly rebuilt Coventry Cathedral.
Following the success of Peter Grimes, Britten devoted much of his creative energies to composing opera. Works such as Billy Budd (1951), The Turn of the Screw (1954), A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1960) and Death in Venice (1973) are now well established in the repertories of major opera houses worldwide. He was awarded a life peerage shortly before his death, aged 63, on 4 December 1976. The British Library holds a substantial collection of Britten’s autograph scores, many of which are placed on long-term loan at the Britten-Pears Library in Aldeburgh.
The War Requiem, first performed on 30 May 1962, is among the most famous of Britten’s works. It was commissioned to mark the consecration of Coventry Cathedral, which was rebuilt following a bombing raid in World War II. The music sets the traditional Latin text of the Requiem Mass alongside war poetry by Wilfred Owen.
“Each of its five brief movements is based on an English folk song and between them they encompass a wide range of moods, extending from the high-spirited dnace, ‘Hunt the Squirrel’, to the wistful melancholy of ‘The Bitter Withy’. . .” Peter Heyworth, The Observer, 15 June 1975
The work, subtitled Variations And Fugue On A Theme Of Henry Purcell, is based on a simple hornpipe from Abdelazer, a play for which Purcell composed incidental music in 1695. Britain uses this theme to show off the colours, ranges and characteristics of all the instruments of a modern symphony orchestra.
Britten’s influence on 20th century music was so profound, he’s inspired a number of memorials around his Aldeburgh. Made in 1979, this memorial window in the parish church of St Peter and St Paul’s celebrates Britten’s three church operas: The Prodigal Son, Curlew River, and the The Burning Firey Furnace.
Icterus galbula Oriole du Nord ou Oriole de Baltimore / Northern Oriole
Although it lives in the sparsely wooded forests of southern Quebec and in the agricultural areas of the Maritime provinces, the Northern Oriole, or Baltimore Oriole, has adjusted well to the urban environment. Known for the sturdiness of its nest, it feeds mainly on insects but also enjoys fruits and nectar. This orange-coloured bird is very sensitive to the cold! It prefers the tropics to the snow, so it flies away from Quebec winters. The length of the bird is about 22 cm.
Bien qu’il habite les forêts aux arbres clairsemés du sud du Québec et les zones agricoles des provinces maritimes, l’oriole du Nord ou de Baltimore s’est bien adapté à l’environnement urbain. Reconnu pour la solidité de son nid, il se nourrit principalement d’insectes mais se régale également de fruits et de nectar. De couleur orangée, cet oiseau est bien frileux! Il préfère les tropiques à la neige, fuyant ainsi l’hiver québécois. La longueur de l’oiseau est d’environ 22 cm.
Musée de la civilisation, collection du Séminaire de Québec, The Birds of America, John James Audubon
As he leafs through my passport, the young man in civilian clothing asks: “Were you in Bucha?” We are sitting in a windowless room in Terminal 2 of Sheremetyevo Airport. I’m back in Moscow, the city where I have lived for 14 years, for the first time in six months and apparently the Russian state has a few questions for me this time.
The border guard had first withheld my passport. Then two other officers had a conversation with me. “What do you think about the military special operation?” one asked when the other had already left the room. “Special military operation” – that’s the name of the invasion of Ukraine in Russian neologism. “War is terrible,” I replied. So now, after hours of waiting, the second call. The young man introduced himself as Alik, and he is presumably with the FSB secret service.DER SPIEGEL 32/2022
And the truth is that yes, I was in Bucha, the suburb of Kyiv, and I saw the crimes Russian soldiers committed against Ukrainian civilians there, even if Russia’s leadership claims that the whole thing was staged by the Western media – that is, by people like me. I have seen the aftermath of Putin’s attack in Ukraine, and just as Alik has questions for me, I have questions for Russia. What’s going on in this country, a country waging a war that is inconceivable to me, a country I have known for so long and yet understand so poorly?
Alik is satisfied with a simple “yes” to his question. He politely asks to see the photos on my phone (I politely decline) and not to write so badly about Russia (I mumble an evasive reply). After a good three hours, the wait is over and I’ve made it. I’m in the country.
In the time I have spent living in Moscow, I have taken it upon myself to correct the mental geography of my German friends. The same Berliners who flew to Athens, Palermo or Madrid for short trips had no idea that Moscow was only a two-and-a-half-hour flight away. Russia seemed infinitely far away to them, and I found that unfortunate.
Putin and world politics have proven me wrong, and Moscow has become a distant place. Direct flights from Germany are no longer available. My Aeroflot flight from Antalya to Sheremetyevo took a five-hour detour to the Kazakh border to avoid the airspace over southern Russia. Moscow is now a long-haul flight.
If you didn’t know that Russia is waging a war on its neighboring country, you wouldn’t notice it in Moscow. The letter “Z,” used as a symbol of “military special operation,” is barely seen here – neither on buildings nor on private cars. Occasionally, a portrait of a soldier hangs on the side of the road, but that’s about it. The public space is free of the clamor of war.
But television and radio are full of it. I realize this when I turn on my radio at home, which used to be tuned to Echo Moscow. Although the station belonged to a Gazprom subsidiary, it was the forum of liberal, opposition-minded Moscow. Instead of music, there were discussions and talk shows. It had been the soundtrack of my everyday life in Moscow.
When I turned my radio on again in Moscow in July, another station had taken over the 91.2 frequency: Radio Sputnik, a propaganda station of Rossiya Segodnya (Russia Today), a state media group. There’s talk on the station about a Russian missile attack on Vinnytsia. A young female voice explains why excessive compassion for civilians in Ukraine is inappropriate. “I also feel sorry for dogs and cats and horses and birds,” she says in a coquettish tone. “But with such an attitude, one shouldn’t have started the whole thing.”
Echo Moscow, founded in 1990, was forced to close in March for allegedly spreading “fake news” about the “special military operation” in Ukraine.
In a restaurant just behind the Foreign Ministry, I meet Alexei Venediktov, who headed the station for more than 24 years. He has a fuzzy white mane and looks a bit like a mad professor.
For me, Venediktov is the epitome of the Moscow that perished for good on Feb. 24 – a city in which democracy had been abolished, but where those in power and the opposition still interacted socially. The ties hadn’t been severed completely.
It was Venediktov’s ambition not to divide the world in friends and foes, to walk the line between government and opposition, to mediate between the sides. He had drunk wine with Putin, knew ministers, was friends with Putin’s spokesman and with the head of the propaganda channel RT. On his radio station, he regularly opened up the floor to bellicose opponents of democracy, people like the writer Alexei Prokhanov. After Echo Moscow’s closure, the latter said: Whoever wants to keep listening to it can “put his ear to the ground. Do you hear the sound of tanks driving through the Donbas? That’s me talking.”
Every autumn, Venediktov and his station had a big party where government officials, Duma deputies, Pussy Riot activists and opposition politicians met. They enjoyed wine and canapés in Zurab Tsereteli’s art gallery, amidst kitschy portraits of czars and a massive, walk-in apple with erotic reliefs. Even the elderly Mikhail Gorbachev came. At the entrance stood the host, eccentrically dressed in a lumberjack shirt and safety vest, a cheerful master of ceremonies for a repressed and yet still functioning society. They still met at his place, even if, over the years, fewer officials and businesspeople attended.
Now, the Russia of hues and semitones has perished, once and for all. The regime demands unambiguity, commitment. Venediktov has lost his role.
“I knew on Feb. 24 that they were going to close my station. Even if we only played music,” says Venediktov. But he probably hastened the end. “I went to the studio early in the morning and said: ‘This will have disastrous consequences for my country. Putin has made a colossal mistake.’ Putin judged that to be a betrayal.”
A participant in the Moscow victory parade bearing the “Z” symbol for the war. Foto: Andrej Krementschouk / Agentur Focus
Betrayal is a central category in Putin’s thinking. There are enemies and traitors, he told Venediktov in a conversation lasting several hours in the summer of 2000, after the first PR disaster of his presidency, the sinking of the Kursk submarine.
Enemies fight you openly, you know where you stand, Putin declared at the time. Traitors stab you in the back. You can get along with enemies. But there can be no mercy for traitors.
“And where do I fall in this construction?” asked Venediktov.
“An enemy,” Putin said with a laugh.
“Now, I’ve moved into the other category,” Venediktov says. In April, Venediktov was personally declared a “foreign agent,” the term used to label media and individuals who are allegedly under foreign influence or receive foreign funding. Many officials have since broken off contact with Venediktov.
In early March, with the station already closed, Venediktov met with Margarita Simonyan, the head of RT. He calls her Margo, and the two are friends. Venediktov had brought photos of Ukrainian children killed in the war. “I said: ‘Margo, they’re kids like yours.’ I thought she would tell me something about collateral damage now. But her eyes glazed over, and she said: ‘The Nazis bombed themselves. This is staged.'” Venediktov says: “She’s not pretending. She really believes it.” He broke off contact.
One might wonder how the head of Russia’s only radio station critical of the Kremlin could be friends with the propaganda chief in the first place. What did he expect?
Some members of the opposition saw Venediktov as a half-collaborator, at best a harmless court jester.
2012: Then Prime Minister Vladimir Putin with Alexei Venediktov, the editor-in-chief of Echo Moscow Foto: Sharifulin Valery / picture alliance
Venediktov views Simonyan’s lack of empathy for Ukraine’s children as reflective of Russian society writ large. “Eleven million Russian families have close relatives in Ukraine. That means there are 40 million people who have a mother, father, brother, sister or grandchildren there. And then such support for the war. How can that be?” He says the propaganda alone isn’t enough to explain it. “There’s something bad that runs deep in people. It’s about the younger brother Ukraine, who is viewed as a traitor because he wants to live better than you do.”
It is also difficult for me to describe the relationship of Russians to Ukrainians because it is changing. Each generation of Russians has its own Ukraine. To the elderly, Ukraine is just a region where people speak a funny peasant dialect and like to eat bacon. Over time, they came to accept that there is a separate state for bacon eaters. But they could not see it as a foreign country.
For younger Russians, Ukraine is a foreign country. It doesn’t bother them if the country strives to move closer to the West. And the eight years of estrangement since the annexation of Crimea in 2014 have left a stronger mark on them.
To me, young and old alike seem to have a poor understanding of Ukraine. The younger people have the advantage of at least being aware of this. Putin is 69 years old. He has no idea how little he knows about Ukraine.
Venediktov believes that Putin divides not only people, but also peoples, into enemies and traitors. “The Baltic states are Putin’s enemies. Ukrainians are traitors – a part of our people who left, deserted, went over to the cursed NATO and the West.” That’s how Venediktov explained it to the president of Latvia the other day. It’s Russia’s supposed proximity to the Ukrainians that explains the willingness to use force.
It was only in hindsight, after his initial horror at the attack had passed, that Venediktov found himself able to grasp the logic of Putin’s actions. “This ‘special operation’ fits him like a glove,” Venediktov says. “Putin is a fanatic.” Venediktov says the Russian leader’s world view has been firmly established for many years. “It’s not Putin that surprises me, but Russian society.”
At the end of March, someone placed a pig’s head in front of Venediktov’s apartment door, and a Ukrainian coat of arms and the word “Judensau” (Jewish pig) were pasted on the door. On the other hand, people approach him on the street and thank him for still being in Russia. “As long as I’m not physically threatened, I will stay in the country,” Venediktov says. “But the only thing you can do right now is comfort, heal, reassure.”
Most of my Russian colleagues, friends and acquaintances left Moscow, the lion’s share in early March, when the rumor emerged of a possible declaration of a state of war. An entire part of the city simply vanished. Now, some are starting to come back. In the relationship between those who left the country and those who stayed, one senses disappointment and mutual hurt. Garry Kasparov, the former world chess champion and opposition politician, has accused all those who remain in the country of bearing “personal responsibility for the war.” One journalist friend who stayed says, “My circle of friends has shrunk radically.” He feels bitter about the moral arrogance shown toward those who remained. “The whole creative class showed its true colors,” he says.
“There is no good decision. There is only a choice between two bad ones,” says Marina Litvinovich, whom I meet in a café. Litvinovich is a civil rights activist and opposition politician with an interesting past. When she was young, she worked for the Kremlin as a spin doctor, then for billionaire Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Kasparov and Ksenia Sobchak, a glamorous celebrity who ran against Vladimir Putin in 2018 at the Kremlin’s request to liven up the dull election campaign.
Litvinovich called for protests at the very beginning of the Ukraine invasion. She was arrested as she left her home. In April, she called for people to stay in the country: “There will be a lot of work here,” she wrote. “Who’s going to do it when you all run away?”
Litvinovich has conducted focus groups to investigate what is going on in the minds of Russians who support the “special military operation.” She speaks of an almost religious conviction of the correctness of the war. “You can’t convince them with rational arguments. They claim we didn’t start the war – because we’re the good guys. We don’t kill peaceful citizens – because we’re the good guys. We don’t destroy cities – because we’re the good guys. When you ask people about Bucha and Mariupol, they say: Our soldiers aren’t capable of doing that.”
This is the direct result of the Kremlin’s world war rhetoric. It presents the invasion of Ukraine as a necessary step to complete the victory over Hitler’s Germany. It speaks of the struggle against Nazism as if the very idea of a Ukrainian nation-state were fascist. It charges a modern conflict with energies from the past.
“People can’t accept the idea that we’re the bad guys. It would destroy their world, their country, their view of everything that has happened in the past 30 years,” Litvinovich says. She compares it to the collapse of the Soviet Union. At the time, as a teenager, she had just joined Komsomol, the communist youth league. “It was a shock when everything that had been good was suddenly considered to be bad. There was constant talk of Stalin and his repressions.”
Perhaps the Russians’ belief in the clean war and the clean army can’t be shaken, says political expert Litvinovich. “Perhaps we should just leave people to their belief and focus on Putin and his criminal orders. Just as everything was first blamed on Stalin back then.”
Opposition politician Marina Litvinovich: “When you ask people about Bucha and Mariupol, they say: ‘Our soldiers aren’t capable of doing that.'” Foto: Nanna Heitmann / Magnum Photos / DER SPIEGEL
Litvinovich speaks freely and at ease, as if nothing could happen to her. Her youngest son is 10 years old. Until he’s 14, she has a good chance of being spared imprisonment. But that’s not something you can really rely on in Russia. She knows what it’s like in the prisons from her visits to them as a civil rights activist. It’s time to prepare: go to the dentist again, check the children’s documents, make plans for an extended absence.
“A few years in prison is fine with me,” she says. “Seven is too many, but let’s say three.” Seven years in a prison camp – that’s the sentence Moscow municipal council member Alexei Gorinov got for criticizing the war. Prosecutors went after him with a law punishing “fake news” about the army.
Nothing distinguishes Russian society from Ukrainian society more than the willingness to submit to an almost monarchical form of rule. It simply has not learned otherwise. Within three decades, Ukraine has experienced five genuine changes of power, whereas Russia has seen none.
Even among the elite, nobody sees themselves as being able to influence the president. The days when Putin depended on them and acted as an arbiter between different clans are long gone. Now the elite depends on Putin. And they are trembling. Resistance, even fleeing, seems futile.
“You can’t run away in a submarine,” says one well-connected businessman. “I told my kids: The task now is to survive.”
“Putin has made a mistake of such fantastic magnitude that he will never be able to admit it. You’d rather take poison,” says a former senior official. He says it took him a month and a half to recover from the shock of the attack on Ukraine. “I woke up every morning wondering if this was even true.”
Wouldn’t it then make sense to criticize the war? “I don’t comment on political issues,” the man says. “Besides, you can’t change anything, anyway.”
It’s unclear who even still has influence at all over Putin in this autocratic system. The way the answer to that question is delivered is more interesting than the answer itself. “Yuri Kovalchuk. Is almost a second Putin,” whispers one, pointing to the ceiling to indicate listening devices. Kovalchuk is a childhood friend of Putin and a banker who is said to have permanent access to the president. Then the interviewee says goodbye: “Be careful! There have been a lot of informants in Moscow lately.”
People marching with portraits of family members and soldiers during the victory parade on Red Square in Moscow on May 9, 2022. Foto: Andrej Krementschouk / Agentur Focus
It’s not only fear that makes the Moscow elite compliant. There is also a new experience of powerlessness: being sanctioned by Western governments, being turned away by Western banks. “There’s a new class of people emerging right now who are interested in the survival of Putin’s regime, so that they don’t get their assets stripped from them at home, too,” the former official says. “The whole establishment has become Putin’s hostage. This is true even of his successors. Russia will be isolated for years to come.”
What is true for the elite is also true for many ordinary Russians. In their view, the sanctions confirm that this war is in fact not an attack by Russia on Ukraine, but a defensive struggle against an overpowering, resentful West.
“They say we started the war in the Donbas and Ukraine. But in truth, the collective West unleashed it,” Putin said in July. He was referring to the 2014 Euromaidan revolution, in his eyes an aggressive act by the West and, in a sense, the original sin from which all the woes follow.
According to that argumentation, Russia commenced the “special operation” in 2022, but the West started the “war” in 2014. “How can a person think a war is good? War is always bad,” a cab driver says when I ask him about his views. I breathe a sigh of relief. “But it wasn’t us who started it,” he adds, before defending the “special operation” and lambasting the foolish Ukrainians, whom he says elected a clown to the presidency. “They should have voted with their heads for once!” he shouts.
Even Muscovites themselves can’t say what the majority thinks about the war, because they don’t talk much among themselves about it. I hear both support and criticism.
“On TV, they showed soldiers’ mothers proudly talking about their fallen sons. I would be jumping at the throats of the army people: Give me back my son! How dare you send him to war!” says one neighbor.
“I’m disappointed in the Russians,” says the colleague, himself a Donetsk native who spent years castigating the Ukrainian government’s crackdown on the “people’s republics.” Now, he condemns Russia’s attack on Ukraine.
Just as there are few signs of the war in Moscow, sanctions are scarcely palpable here. My German credit card is rejected, but new exchange offices have sprung up all over the place. Some beverage packaging is only printed on one side because the necessary color is missing. Western car manufacturers have pulled out, and spare parts are now bought through online shops. Apple and Nike are also gone. The large McDonald’s on Pushkin Square, opened in Soviet times, is now called “Vkusno & tochka,” or “tasty and that’s it,” and the hamburgers and fries have a slightly different flavor. Burger King is still open.
Overall, though, they are ridiculously small changes. The sanctions have cast their shadow on Russia’s future, but not on the present. It is still possible to pretend that nothing is amiss, that life goes on, that Russia isn’t trying to destroy its neighboring country. There is no siren air alarm wailing, no anti-aircraft guns booming – only a shopping assortment that has slightly changed. For those who have seen Bucha, the contrast is hard to bear.
Next to the U.S. Embassy, which is largely empty and bears a notice outside its entrance warning against travel to Russia, I meet one of the few people who have really longed for the current conflict. We sit down in a smokers’ room in the basement of a shopping center, with erotic photographs hanging on the wall.
Alexander Borodai, a member of the Duma with the Kremlin’s United Russia party, is a chubby-cheeked man who is quick and nervous when he speaks. I saw him for the first time in 2014, in Donetsk. At the time, Borodai was declared the “prime minister” of the newly formed “Donetsk People’s Republic.” I thought it was a bizarre decision. Couldn’t the alleged separatists have presented someone more convincing than a Moscow spin doctor who didn’t have the slightest connection to the Donbas? It doesn’t matter, Borodai told me at the time, we are all Russian people. By that point, he had already helped annex Crimea.
A conservative and staunch defender of the Russian empire, Borodai would have preferred to expand the war to all of Ukraine at the time. For people like him, it was a disappointment that Russia agreed to the Minsk cease-fire agreements in 2014 and 2015. Instead of renewing the empire, Putin had stopped halfway.
Now Borodai, who just turned 50, is seeing his dreams fulfilled. “For me, an important and, yes, rather joyous time has begun,” he admits. “Nobody said good times were easy.”
The member of parliament with the governing party is now on the road, gun in hand, in the neighboring country. He heads the Union of Donbas Volunteers, a veterans’ organization that currently maintains three battalions of 400 men and two detachments of 250 men in Ukraine. About 1,500 of his men have already fallen, Borodai admits. It’s an absurdly high number. Russia’s Defense Ministry hasn’t reported casualty figures for four months.
Borodai always refers to Ukraine as “the so-called Ukraine” – for him it’s not a state, but merely a colony of the West that belongs “reunited with the rest of Russia.” He admits, of course, that there are Ukrainians who don’t want that. But he says that with his Ukrainian surname, he has “at least as much right to decide on this as a Zelenskyy, who isn’t even Ukrainian by blood.” The comment is a jab at Zelenskyy’s Jewish origin. And even in the city of Kyiv, Borodai claims, many people would quickly switch sides “when they realize that power and victory is on our side.” So, where the war will stop? “At the latest on the western border of Ukraine,” he says.
That’s the shrill sound of war – civil war, as Borodai calls it. As the rest of Moscow pretends to be at peace in the cafes, Borodai dreams in his smokers’ parlor of retroactively correcting the disintegration of the Soviet Union – with the liquidation of Ukraine not excluded. This had all once been the dream of a radical outsider. But now it is the dream of Russia’s leadership, and Borodai’s only fear is that Putin might again seek premature peace, as he did in Minsk.
Borodai hasn’t changed. Dmitri Trenin, on the other hand, whom I meet in a corner café on Moscow’s Boulevard Ring, is a different person than before, and that upsets me, because he played a major role in my work. A friendly older gentleman with a mustache, a husky voice and a brilliant mind, he taught me how Russia looks at the world. One of his colleagues joked years ago that in the ideal Russia of the future, Trenin would be the Kremlin’s national security adviser. Trenin seemed equally at home in the West and in Russia. The foreign and security policy expert was the head of the Moscow Carnegie Center, the branch of an American think tank that has since been closed by the Russian government. On the other hand, he had also served in the Army for two decades, for a time as a liaison officer in Potsdam, Germany, during the Cold War.
Alexander Borodai, the self-proclaimed prime minister of the pro-Russian separatist Donetsk People’s Republic during a press conference given in 2014 in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk. Foto: Getty Images
Trenin has always been patriotic, and some considered him too close to the Kremlin. But I appreciated his sober analyses. He found Putin’s fixation on NATO’s eastward expansion exaggerated, and Russia’s intervention on the side of the rebels in the Donbas in 2014 to be “the most serious mistake of Putin’s foreign policy.” He argued that it isn’t the territories of Ukraine that should be collected by Russia, but rather those inhabitants of Ukraine who would prefer to live in Russia. I read his last book as a pure rejection of the idea of a new war in Ukraine.
Just a week before Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, when Washington was warning daily of a Russian invasion, Trenin assured me with firm conviction: “A war was never planned.” He was already talking in the past tense, as if the crisis were already over. He considered Putin’s deployment of troops to merely be a threatening gesture.
The Trenin I meet in Moscow five months later is a changed man. Or had I just been wrong about him? Trenin hasn’t uttered a single critical word about the invasion of the neighboring country since February. He supports a larger war effort. Trenin has insinuated that the West wants to “finally solve the ‘Russian question” and, as such, there is no room for serious dialogue. Russia, he says, needs a “self-purification” of materialism and other wrong values, a new “Russian idea.”
“I told my American friends right away on Feb. 24: I’m a veteran officer. So long as the war lasts, I will not say or write a word that could harm the Russian army, its leadership or the commander-in-chief,” Trenin says in the café. He describes Russians who spoke out against the war as “hypocrites” because they hadn’t criticized previous wars or as “anti-state.” Besides, he adds, he’s an advocate of realpolitik, not a pacifist.
Trenin strikes me as being something like a German professor in August 1914. He speculates coolly about a liquidation of the neighboring country (which, as a “maximum variant,” is “unlikely”) and about whether what is left of Ukraine will still have its capital in Kyiv (“currently open”).
His hope is for Russia’s “self-purification” through the war. “When so many people are sent to war – significantly more than in Chechnya – and kill or get killed there, it undermines the cult of money in the country.” The old corrupt elites might even end up with some competition from the soldiers now fighting in Ukraine. The country needs an ideology now – “russkaya pravda,” Russian truth or “justice,” as he has called it – and a different, managed economy.
Analysts who merely reflect on the world, Trenin argues, should out of principle not put themselves in the role of those who change the world. That’s his explanation for why he didn’t foresee Putin’s moves. He had measured Putin against his own rationality. To me it sounds like: Putin isn’t someone you understand. He’s someone you follow.
On a Friday morning, I board a plane and fly two and a half hours east, to Yekaterinburg in the Urals, the hometown of Putin’s predecessor, Boris Yeltsin. The city is home to a large Yeltsin Center, a museum and archive modeled on American presidential libraries. It provides a window into Russia’s past before Putin, but also into a Russia as it might have become without Putin.
On television, the nineties now serve only as a dark foil against which Putin’s rule is made to shine. But it was also a time of pluralism and media diversity and hope. The good as well as the bad that emerged in Russia had already been laid out.
At the entrance of the museum, an animated film tells Russia’s story as that of a society striving for freedom. Various possible Yeltsin successors are portrayed, Putin being only one of them. In the end, Yeltsin can be heard with a weary voice handing over the official duties of office to Putin. “Be happy. You’ve earned it,” he tells the Russians.
What might a future Putin center look like? What role will the invasion of Ukraine play in it? What message will a weary Putin give his citizens at the end of the exhibition?
The future of the Yeltsin years seemed open. Now, the country appears set for a long decline. “The best time of our lives is behind me,” my colleague Lena told me in Moscow. It sounded infinitely sad.
Even the Yeltsin Center itself may no longer have a place in the new Russia. In February, it published an appeal against the war, which had to be taken off the website. It is often attacked on state television. All of Yekaterinburg is a “center of disgusting liberals,” according to a talk show host loyal to Putin.
On Saturday, I put on running clothes and go to the dam in downtown Yekaterinburg. Each weekend, Evgeny Roisman, the city’s former mayor, invites people for a group jog. Roisman is well-known throughout Russia. He is one of the few prominent Kremlin critics not yet in jail, and the country’s most vocal opponent of the war. He tweeted that it was the “meanest, most shameful and unjust war Russia has ever waged.”
“And I am by no means saying everything that I think,” Roisman explained to me the night before. We sat together in the office of his relief fund while one visitor after the other asked for support. They asked for things like expensive medicines, legal help against a fraudulent car dealer or writerly advice for penning a poem against the war. Roisman listened to everyone with a stoic expression.
I had last seen Roisman in January 2021, while waiting at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport for the return of opposition politician Alexei Navalny, who had been recovering in Germany from his poisoning by the FSB. The two are friends. Officials immediately took Navalny into custody. “I was told at the time by a number of politicians: You could be the new leader! I asked: What for? So I can do time myself in a month?” There are currently three legal proceedings runningagainstRoisman for “discrediting the armed forces.” And yet he still has sympathy for those who don’t openly oppose the war. He says there is serious passive resistance to this war. “This is Russia. Even if people are silent, that’s worth something.” In fact, even in Yekaterinburg, you see amazingly little propaganda for the war, no “Z” signs on the cars.
Opposition politician Evgeny Roisman (wearing a yellow shirt) while jogging in Yekaterinburg Foto: Sergey Poteryaev / DER SPIEGEL
Roisman doesn’t see himself as a member of the opposition, which has ceased to exist since Navalny’s arrest. He views himself as being outside of politics altogether. “My job is for people to see: You don’t have to give up, you can continue to do what you think is right and beneficial without cooperating with the state power. I understand the risks.”
In the Russia of 2022, that’s already a lot. It is the comforting and healing that the radio journalist Venediktov spoke about in the Moscow restaurant. In a country where every protest is immediately dispersed, just arranging to go jogging every Saturday is a courageous act.
About 30 people came together this time. The route goes once around the city pond, past the Yeltsin Center and then back. It is a silent gathering of like-minded people, without flags or placards.
“I hope they don’t put Roisman in jail,” I tell Ruslan, who is running next to me and flew in from Moscow with his girlfriend to jog with the former mayor.
Moscow’s massive deployment to the war in Ukraine has left its perimeters unprotected, increasing its vulnerability
After the successful offensives of the Ukrainian troops in the Kherson and Kharkiv regions, Russian politicians have begun to talk about mass mobilization. Official representatives deny that it will happen, but Russia has been frantically seeking cannon fodder for the war in Ukraine for some months now. Sending reinforcements to the war front may influence its plans along its extensive borders, which extend 60,932 kilometers (37,861 miles). Russia’s global ambitions are out of step with its economy, geography and demographics. Russian President Vladimir Putin is faced with a dilemma: admit defeat or order a general mobilization. The latter could be risky, since the people could easily turn their weapons against the Kremlin, as has happened before in Russian history.
On August 26, the Russian president signed a decree increasing the number of members of the armed forces by 137,000. This will bring the number of military personnel to 1,150,628 soldiers. The Kremlin has also forced state corporations and oligarchs to form their own private militaries to add to the thousands of mercenaries already fighting in Ukraine. Russian provinces have formed about 40 battalions of so-called volunteers, whose equipment and salary they finance. For volunteers, the maximum age has been raised (in some provinces up to 60 years), and health requirements have been eased. Since the volunteer forces are still not enough, private paramilitary companies have recruited prisoners. The head of the Caucasian republic of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, has called on all regions to fully mobilize. A covert mobilization is already taking place.MORE INFORMATION
Why does Russia not have enough soldiers? On the eve of the war in Ukraine, the official workforce of the Russian army was four times that of the Ukrainian army, although it is possible that the actual number of Russian forces was considerably lower.
To invade Ukraine, Russia deployed units from its four military districts, with a total of up to 250,000 people, but units from the western district bore the brunt of the fighting and paid a heavy price for it. In its daily report on September 13, the British Ministry of Defense noted that the First Tank Army suffered heavy losses early in the invasion and was withdrawn from the Kharkiv region after the Ukrainian offensive. “With 1 GTA and other WEMD Formations severely degraded, Russia’s conventional force designed to counter NATO is severely weakened. It will likely take years for Russia to rebuild this capability.” Finland’s entry into NATO means that the organization’s border with Russia has increased by 1,272 kilometers (790 miles). Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu has said that Sweden and Finland’s joining NATO requires the formation of 12 new military units and formations.
Although many units from Russia’s eastern district, the most powerful of the four existing districts, were sent to the front, the Kremlin cannot move troops from the east to the west of the country, as it did with the Siberian divisions in World War II. Russia has not yet signed a peace treaty with Japan, with whom it has a territorial dispute over the Kuril Islands. Tokyo has increased its military budget, which Moscow will be forced to take into account.
In addition, Russia has to send troops to the 4,209-kilometer-long (2,615 mile) border with China. In 1969, the Sino-Soviet split sparked a border conflict near Zhenbao (Damanski) Island on the Ussuri (Wusuli) river near Manchuria. Between 1991 and 2008, the territorial conflicts between China and Russia were resolved, but the Chinese have not forgotten that the Russian empire annexed its territories in the Far East. On the other hand, the emigration from Siberia to the center of Russia has depopulated enormous extensions of land, where Chinese have replaced Russians. The situation is currently peaceful, but under these conditions, only the Russian military can guarantee Russia’s sovereignty in Siberia and the Far East. Russia and China are partners today, but they are not allies. China’s military budget in 2019 was $177 billion to Russia’s $46 billion.
The transfer of a significant military contingent from the eastern district to Ukraine would weaken Russia’s defenses in the Far East and Siberia. The Chinese might be tempted to recover what they lost. The central military district borders Kazakhstan (7,548 kilometers, 4,690 miles of border). The Taliban’s ascent to power in Afghanistan, and the border problems between Central Asian states, mean that Russia has to keep enough troops there to contain threats. The Taliban’s incursion into Central Asia threatens not only the countries of the region, but also the Russian Muslim republics of Tatarstan and Bashkortostan.
In Georgia and Moldova, there is also talk of recovering seceded territories. The southern Russian military district sent its most capable units to Ukraine: the 58th Combined Arms Army, which has combat experience in Chechnya and Georgia. As a result, the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), of which Russia and Armenia are members, could not fulfill its obligation to respond to Armenia’s request for help. Azerbaijan decided that it was time to act. On the night of September 13, Baku troops opened fire on the territory of Armenia. Russia is the guarantor of security in the region, but it is currently busy with the war in Ukraine. Officially, the Russian armed forces should be capable of simultaneously solving tasks in two armed conflicts without resorting to new mobilizations. In reality, Russia has been unable to manage the confrontation between Armenia and Azerbaijan and the war in Ukraine at the same time.
Behind Azerbaijan is Turkey, which has an ambivalent relationship with Russia and is beginning to assert its intention to dominate the southern Caucasus. Turkish military power in the Caucasus already surpasses the Russian presence. Russia cannot send all of its forces to Ukraine, which is slowly matching Russia’s technical capabilities thanks to Western arms supplies. The very fact that Ukraine has resisted, in the cruelest war that has taken place in Europe since 1945, is already a defeat for Putin. Apart from mobilization or recognition of defeat, the Russian president has a third option: to use nuclear weapons. But that solution would go beyond the Russian-Ukrainian war, bringing about a global catastrophe.