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Ukrainians say the biggest problem facing their country ahead of a crucial presidential election in March is the same one that ushered in the current head of state in the first place: war.
It’s been almost four years since officials from Ukraine, Russia, France, and Germany agreed on a way to end a hot phase of the conflict between Ukraine’s central government and Russia-backed separatists in the east.
Fast forward to today, and that deal, known as the Minsk accords, has largely failed, much to the dismay of most of Ukraine’s 44 million citizens.
Sporadic fighting has killed more than 10,000 people and displaced 2 million more from an area sliced through by a 500-kilometer “line of contact” teeming with land mines. As the war grinds toward a sixth year, there is no end in sight.
But a growing field of challengers hopes that fellow Ukrainians are ready to turn the page on their wartime president, Petro Poroshenko.
Just don’t insist on seeing the fine print.
“Everyone is saying they will finish the war…and they may talk about general ideas, like international peacekeepers, as a way of moving forward,” says Oleksiy Haran, a professor of political science at Kyiv’s Mohyla Academy and head of research at the Ilko Kucheriv Democratic Initiatives Foundation, a think tank. “But I think no politician is able to talk about specific details.”
Moreover, he adds, any candidate who is brave enough to offer specifics “would immediately be accused of making concessions to [Russian President Vladimir] Putin.”
In fact, that’s already happened.
Talking To The Separatists
Candidates Yuriy Boiko and Oleksandr Vilkul, whose opposition parties are regarded by some as Russia-friendly or pro-Russian, have suggested any peace deal should include compromises and dialogue with the separatists — a nonstarter for many Ukrainians who equate such a move with capitulation.
One candidate who has laid out a “new strategy for peace and security” is Yulia Tymoshenko, a former gas executive and prime minister who lost a presidential runoff to Viktor Yanukovych in 2010 and looks like a front-runner in the looming race.
She proposed a “Budapest+” negotiating format involving the European Union, China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The name is a reference to widely lauded quadrilateral talks in 1994 at which a newly independent Kyiv agreed to give up the world’s third-largest nuclear arsenal in exchange for security assurances from Washington, London, and Moscow. Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and support for armed separatists in eastern Ukraine marked a clear abrogation of that commitment, in most Ukrainians’ eyes.
Speaking to a packed house of supporters in the capital on January 22, Tymoshenko even offered up a hopeful vision to millions of eastern Ukrainians displaced by the war: “Gather up your fridge magnets, you’ll soon have someplace to hang them.”
But throughout, Tymoshenko was short on her plan’s specifics.
“It does not reject the Minsk agreements and does not say what may be compromised regarding Donbas,” Fesenko says in a reference to the eastern regions where separatists control large sections of territory.
Another candidate, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who plays a fictional president in a TV comedy series, recently offered voters something along the lines of “we’ll meet in the middle” when asked how he might resolve the conflict.
“‘Putin has his position; I have my position. We’ll decide something and then have a referendum,'” is how Haran characterizes Zelenskyy, who is running third behind Tymoshenko and Poroshenko in early polling. “Zelenskyy demonstrated that he’s totally unprepared for such questions.”
Growing Desire For Peace
Many of the two dozen people who have declared their intention to run — 17 of them already registered ahead of the February 8 deadline — have talked about ending the war, albeit in extremely vague terms.
“Absolutely it is the most important issue,” says Oleksandr Zenov, an eastern Ukrainian who has done humanitarian work during the conflict. “My [vote] will be based not only on the plans of action but also on the activities that have already been done.”
After all, he says, “most of the candidates have been in Ukrainian [politics] for more than 20 years.”
Polls have shown Ukrainians’ desire for peace growing as the election approaches.
A poll published in November suggested 57 percent of people saw the Donbas conflict as the country’s most pressing issue, ahead of corruption. That was up from 53 percent in June. Later the same month, another survey put that number at 66 percent of Ukrainians. By December, more polling said 72 percent of Ukrainians regarded the war as the country’s biggest problem.
Volodymyr Fesenko, director of the Kyiv-based Penta Center for Political Studies, says there are three main reasons why candidates avoid details when it comes to ending the war.
First, there’s no “meaningful alternative” to the Minsk agreements at hand, and the Ukrainian and Russian positions are “fundamentally different.” Second, Ukrainians themselves are not unified behind any single solution to the conflict. And third, he insists, Ukrainian voters and politicians are convinced that peace is most contingent on “Putin’s position, [and] his readiness for a real compromise.”
A peace breakthrough that could dramatically sway the race in Poroshenko’s favor is unlikely before the election, given Putin’s public disdain for the former businessman.
But both Fesenko and Haran suggest the war’s hold on many voters, at least those farther from the war zones, might recede as election day nears. They point to the same polls indicating that the war falls to third or fourth place — after economic issues, such as utility prices, salaries, and pensions — when Ukrainians are asked what the most important issues are for their families.
“The Minsk plan can be compared to a seriously ill patient who is in the intensive-care unit,” Fesenko says. “He can be saved from death, but he will no longer be completely healthy.”
Ukraine’s roughly 36 million voters must be wondering if the same is true of their country.(REFRL)
The US researchers have discovered a class of immune cells that plays a role in miscarriage, which affects about a quarter of pregnancies.
Researchers at the University of California-San Francisco found that the recently discovered subset of cells known as extrathymic Aire-expressing cells in the immune system may prevent the mother's immune system from attacking the placenta and fetus.
The researchers showed that pregnant mice who did not have this subset of cells were twice as likely to miscarry, and in many of these pregnancies fetal growth was severely restricted.
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"When you're pregnant, the immune system is seeing the placenta for the first time in decades -- not since the mother made a placenta when she herself was a fetus," said Eva Gillis-Buck, from UCSF.
"Our research suggests that this subset of immune cells is carrying out a sort of 'secondary education' -- sometimes many years after the better-known population of the educator cells have carried out the primary education in the thymus -- teaching T cells not to attack the fetus, the placenta and other tissues involved in pregnancy," she added. The findings are published in the journal Science Immunology.
The immune system has to be educated not to attack one's own tissues and organs to prevent autoimmune disease. But pregnancy presents a unique challenge since the fetus expresses proteins found in the placenta as well as proteins whose genetics are distinct from the mother.
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"It was a conceptual leap to link Aire-expressing cells, which are critical for preventing autoimmune disease, to pregnancy," said Tippi Mackenzie, Professor of Surgery at UCSF's Center for Maternal Foetal Precision Medicine.
In the thymus, Aire-expressing cells begin interacting with other immune cells very early in life to teach them what not to attack. The thymus begins to shrink and is nearly gone by adulthood, by which time most immune cells have been educated. But as the thymus shrinks, the population of eTACs in lymph nodes and the spleen expands, the researchers explained.
The study suggests a healthy pregnancy may depend on having these cells around, they added. (IANS/KB)
The tiny emojis being shared on billions of devices worldwide can play a major role in digital communication, with most people saying that emoji compels them to feel more empathy towards others, according to an Adobe report.
Adobe's global emoji study found that emoji even helps people overcome language barriers and form connections that would otherwise be difficult to do.
"We were surprised and delighted by the discoveries made in the survey, most notably how enthusiastic respondents were for emoji as a means to express themselves," the company said in a statement.
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Emojis sometimes get criticized for being overly saccharine, but this sweetness is key when it comes to diffusing some of the heaviness of online communication.
"Many of the emoji are focused on positive emotions, so it's easy to insert them into our conversations and lighten the mood," the Adobe study said.
It's not surprising that over half of those surveyed feel more comfortable using emojis than talking on the phone or in person.
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This applies to less intense situations too. Dating, for example, can be tricky — especially when it's online or via digital apps, as it often is now.
The study also found that emoji even helps people overcome language barriers and form connections that would otherwise be difficult to do.
In celebration of World Emoji Day on Saturday, Adobe's '2021 Global Emoji Trend Report' surveyed 7,000 people in the US, the UK, Germany, France, Japan, Australia, and South Korea. (IANS/KB)
Following the grand Richard Branson show where he carried Andhra Pradesh-born Sirisha Bandla and fellow space travelers on his shoulders after successfully flying to the edge of space, it is time for Amazon Founder Jeff Bezos to applaud Sanjal Gavande, one of the key engineers who designed the New Shephard rocket set to take Bezos and the crew to space on July 20.
Billionaire Bezos is set to fly to the edge of space aboard what is touted as the world's first unpiloted suborbital flight. Born in Kalyan, Maharashtra, Gavande is a systems engineer at Blue Origin who always dreamt of designing aerospace rockets.
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After completing Bachelor's in mechanical engineering from the University of Mumbai, she flew to the US in 2011 to pursue a Master's in mechanical engineering from the Michigan Technological University. She also applied for an engineering job at the US space agency NASA but finally landed her dream job at Blue Origin
Sirisha flew to the US in 2011 to pursue a Master's in mechanical engineering from the Michigan Technological University.IANS
Bezos, his brother Mark, aviation pioneer Mary Wallace 'Wally' Funk, and other passengers are set to liftoff from west Texas and travel just beyond the edge of space on July 20. Blue Origin announced this week that Oliver Daemen, an 18-year-old high school graduate from the Netherlands, would join the crew.
Oliver is the son of millionaire Joe Daemen, Founder, and CEO of the Dutch investment company Somerset Capital Partners. Blue Origin, however, did not reveal how much Daemen paid for his son's trip to space. Bezos chose July 20 as the launch date to honor the 52nd anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing.
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The launch site for Blue Origin's first human flight will be in a remote location north of Van Horn, Texas, from where the firm had launched New Shepard for previous flights. Blue Origin has received final approval from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to carry humans on the New Shepard rocket into space.
On July 12, Bandla touched the edge of space with three others, including Virgin Galactic's billionaire CEO Richard Branson. Bandla vaulted into space onboard VSS Unity 22. After the successful spaceflight, Branson carried the Indian-American on his shoulders while celebrating their flight to space, at Spaceport America in New Mexico. (IANS/KB)