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Sensemaker: Fleeing Ukraine

Sensemaker: Fleeing Ukraine

What just happened

Long stories short

  • US and UK intelligence agencies claim Putin is being misled by his military and his advisors are too afraid to tell him the truth. 
  • President Biden is expected to announce the release of up to a million barrels of oil a day from the US Strategic Petroleum Reserve to curb the rise in energy prices. 
  • Two of Britain’s most senior judges have resigned from Hong Kong’s top court over the draconian security law imposed by Beijing.  
  • Will Smith faces possible expulsion from the Academy of Motion Pictures for slapping Chris Rock at the Oscars. 

Fleeing Ukraine

The numbers are staggering: more than four million people have fled Ukraine since the start of the Russian invasion just over five weeks ago. This surpasses the United Nations’ original estimate of four million for the duration of the war. 

  • Millions more have been uprooted within Ukraine and others are trapped, unable to leave because of fighting.   
  • Ninety per cent of those who have left the country are women and children. 
  • The UN’s refugee agency says the vast majority – more than two million –  are now in Poland.

Is the UK pulling its weight? The evidence, so far, suggests it is not.

  • A government minister said that the number of Ukrainians who have arrived is “relatively low”. Perhaps just over 1,000. 
  • The Home Office has granted just 2,700 visas under the Homes for Ukraine sponsorship scheme which opened two weeks ago. 
  • That’s less than 10 per cent of the nearly 30,000 applications received so far, despite the offer from more than 150,000 British households to accommodate refugees. 
  • A further 22,800 visas from 31,200 applications have been issued under the Ukraine Family Scheme. These are for Ukrainians with close relatives living in the UK.

To compare

  • Germany has registered around 300,000 Ukrainians since the start of the war. 
  • Romania has more than 600,000. 
  • Moldova has nearly 400,000.  

Unsurprisingly, many are unimpressed.

  • Sonya Sceats, the chief executive of Freedom from Torture described the numbers as “woeful”. 
  • The shadow home secretary, Yvette Cooper, said the government was making “shamefully slow” progress. 
  • The British Red Cross wants the Home Office to abandon the requirement for Ukrainians to need a visa to enter the UK, as many other European countries have done. 

New in the job. The minister for refugees, Lord Harrington, has been in post for just over three weeks. In 2015 he was put in charge of the government’s programme to resettle Syrian refugees in the UK. He has acknowledged there are problems with the system telling a parliamentary committee that it had taken him an hour to fill in the long application form from the comfort of his own home. Presumably he also had a stable internet connection. 

Homeless. The Local Government Association, which represents English and Welsh councils, says 57 of its members have reported Ukrainian refugees who are now homeless. Many of these people have not arrived under any of the official schemes. The LGA suggests some may have come to the UK via Ireland. Lord Harrington has told councils the government won’t stump up any extra cash to help deal with these cases.  

Can he fix it? Supporters of Boris Johnson like to argue he has had a “good” war. That the crisis in Ukraine has played to his strengths and relegated the scandal of the Downing Street lockdown-busting parties into what one of the PM’s closest political allies described as “trivial fluff”. Johnson was self-assured enough to joke to Tory MPs that he’s more popular in parts of Kyiv than he is in parts of Kensington. 

In spite of all Johnson’s public support for Volodymyr Zelensky and the steady supply of anti-aircraft and anti-tank weapons to Kyiv, his government appears to be dragging its feet when it comes to dealing with Ukrainians who want to come to Britain. This could leave tens of thousands mired in a system which is hard to navigate when, thanks to Vladimir Putin, they are fleeing for their lives.  


Funding climate change
Fossil fuel financing by the world’s 60 largest banks fell by just one per cent in 2021- from $750 billion to $742 billion – according to a report from a coalition of climate action organisations. Last year many prominent financial institutions actually increased their lending and underwriting to coal, oil and gas production compared to levels in 2016, the year after the Paris Agreement was signed. Major banks also funded the top 100 companies doing the most to expand fossil fuel development worldwide to the tune of $185 billion in 2021. Of the 60 banks in the report, 44 have pledged to meet the Paris goal of net zero by 2050. Analysis by the International Energy Agency found that to achieve those goals, the world needs to end new fossil fuel developments, not fund more. 


Trans MP
With a 221 year history, it’s not often now that parliament celebrates a first. But yesterday’s announcement from Conservative MP for Bridgend Jamie Wallis, that he is trans, was certainly that. Via his Twitter and website, he announced he had been diagnosed with “gender dysphoria” and that he always imagined he would have left politics before he “ever said this out loud”. But he nearly didn’t have the power to reveal his “truth” himself. Wallis described an incident in April 2020 when a member of the public attempted to blackmail him by demanding £50,000 to stop him revealing that Wallis was trans. A man was later arrested and sentenced to two years and 9 months in prison. In a separate incident, Wallis described how a man who he hooked up with online raped him. Wallis joins a small – but growing – group of politicians and government officials who have come out as trans. 


The farthest star 
The Hubble telescope has spotted the farthest and oldest star ever recorded. Light from the star took 12.9 billion years to reach earth – the previous record holder, discovered in 2018, was 9 billion light-years away. Scientists are obviously excited at being able to look so far back into the past. Studying it will open up “a window into an era of the universe that we are unfamiliar with,” says Brian Welch, a 27-year-old astronomer and lead author on the report about the star, published in Nature. The star began emitting light 900 million years after the Big Bang, close to the “cosmic dawn” when the first galaxies began to form. Welch named the star Earendel, an Old English word meaning “morning star”.

The 100-year life health, education AND GOVERNMENT

Pills by post
There are few issues that divide Westminster as abortion does. Yesterday was no different. After impassioned speeches on both sides of the house, MPs voted not to end the policy that allowed at-home abortions with pills. It was originally introduced by then health secretary Matt Hancock in 2020 during the pandemic. It meant an estimated 150,000 women had an early-abortion (before ten weeks) in their homes. Last month, public health minister, Maggie Throup, outraged campaigners and women’s health groups when she announced the provision would be axed in August and pre-Covid measures would return. To note: before Covid the policy for abortion pills was to take the first of two pills at an appointment with a doctor present, then take the second at home. England will now fall in line with Wales, with Scotland likely to follow suit. Abortion access campaigners may have won this battle, but across the Irish sea another remains. Today is the deadline for Northern Ireland to provide abortion services before the UK government steps in. Despite becoming legal in 2019, services have yet to be commissioned meaning women have been travelling to England and Wales to obtain an abortion. 

world by numbers

64  – percentage of people in the UK fully complying with isolation advice according to the ONS, down from 80 per cent in February when it was legally required. 

Our planet CLIMATE AND geopolitics

Brace position
Putin called Scholz last night to reassure the German chancellor he could still pay for gas using euros, not roubles. Last week Moscow had warned EU countries they would have to pay for gas in the Russian currency because of sanctions. This prompted Germany’s economy minister, Robert Habeck, to trigger the first stage of an emergency plan to ration gas use. “Every kilowatt hour counts,” he said. Putin’s phone call may have eased Scholz’s short-term energy worries for now – but Habeck’s directive remains. The only way to break free from the Kremlin crackpot’s whims is to use less gas. From now to net zero, every kilowatt-hour counts.

Thanks for reading. Please share this around and tell us what we’ve missed. News tips and story ideas are welcome. Email them to sensemaker@tortoisemedia.com.

Jasper Corbett

With additional reporting by Phoebe Davis, Ella Hill and Ellen Halliday.

Photographs Angelos Tzortzinis/AFP, Louisa Gouliamaki/AFP, Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images, Dan Kitwood/Getty Images, Justin Tallis/AFP via Getty Images

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