December 4, 2023

good morning. We cover Russia’s victory in a major eastern city, the devastating heat wave in Japan, and the Pakistani debate over transgender rights.

On Sunday, the Ukrainian army announced its withdrawal from the main eastern city of Lyschansk, the last city in Luhansk province still under Ukraine’s control.

Moscow’s victory means that Russian forces control large parts of Donbass, a coal-rich region that has become a focal point for Russia since its defeat around Kyiv in the spring. Residents said Ukrainian forces are now strengthening their defenses along the border line between Luhansk and neighboring Donetsk province.

Officials said that after Ukraine withdrew from Lyschansk, explosions hit the center of a Russian city just north of Ukraine, killing four. It is the deadliest incident affecting civilians in Russia since the beginning of the war. Moscow blamed Ukraine for the attack on Belgorod. There was no immediate comment from the Ukrainian military.

Here are live updates.

What’s Next: Lysychansk offers Russia a base from which to launch attacks on cities in the southwest. Yesterday, the Ukrainian city of Slovensk was subjected to the heaviest bombardment. The mayor said at least six people were killed and more than a dozen wounded.

Japan is experiencing one of the worst heat waves ever. Officials are urging people to keep their air conditioners running to avoid heat stroke, even though doing so could lead to a potential power shortage.

The elderly population in Japan is particularly vulnerable to heatstroke and exhaustion, and officials have attributed a number of deaths to rising temperatures.

The number of hospitalizations is also rising: Officials said more than 4,500 people showing symptoms of heatstroke and exhaustion were taken to hospitals in ambulances in recent days, more than four times the number from the same period a year ago. Most patients were 65 years of age or older.

Data: In Tokyo, on Saturday, temperatures topped 95 degrees Fahrenheit – about 35 degrees Celsius – for the eighth day in a row. The capital has only seen such a line once before since 1875, when record keeping began.

context: Japan is vulnerable to blackouts during periods of high demand because it relies heavily on liquefied natural gas, which is difficult to store and which has become more expensive since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February.

Four years ago, Pakistan became one of the few countries that protect the rights of transgender people in law. It enacted a law banning discrimination in schools, workplaces, and public places, and guaranteeing one’s right to choose one’s gender on official documents.

At first, some appeared from the shadows. But recently, violence has escalated. In a series of attacks in March, four transgender people were killed and others wounded in the northwest.

Law enforcement is also inconsistent. The legislation calls for the creation of protection centers, where trans people can access mental health services, legal services, and temporary housing. But only one has opened so far, in the capital, Islamabad.

Discrimination is still common. Many people are living as they did before 2018, hiding their identities, avoiding their families, denied medical care and huddling together in group homes in search of safety.

Data: Transgender murders in Pakistan recently averaged about 10 per year, according to Monitoring transient homicides project. This is more than it was before the law was passed, and for the population, much more than its neighbours.

Kaleem Ullah Khan, the “mango man,” has spent his life grafting 300 varieties of mango into a single mother tree. By doing so, the 82-year-old horticulturalist has inoculated his life story as well.

“Sometimes the tree asks me questions—and I sit and think about it,” he said. “It leaves me worried—what do you want? I think about questions for hours.”

This month, the James Webb Space Telescope will begin spying on planets orbiting other stars. Astronomers hope the powerful telescope will reveal whether some atmospheres harbor that might support life.

Determining the atmosphere in another solar system would be cool enough. But there is a chance – albeit small – that one of these atmospheres offers what is known as a biosignature: a reference to life itself.

Since 1995, scientists have found more than 5,000 exoplanets. Some are similar to Earth – about the same size, made of rock rather than gas and orbiting in the “Goldilocks Zone” around their star, not too close to cooking but not too far from freezing.

The relatively small size of these exoplanets has made them extremely difficult to study until now. The James Webb Space Telescope, which launched last Christmas, will change that, acting as a magnifying glass — collecting signals as faint as a few photons per second — to allow astronomers to look more closely at these worlds.

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