The U.S. accuses Russia of quietly increasing troops at Ukraine's border

Published February 17, 2022 at 8:27 AM EST
Ukrainian frontier guards walk along the border with Russia.
Sergey Bobok
AFP via Getty Images
Ukrainian frontier guards walk along the border with Russia, some 40 km from the second-largest Ukrainian city of Kharkiv, on Wednesday.

Good morning,

We're following these top stories today:

Tension at Ukraine's border: Russia says it's withdrawing some of its troops, but the U.S. and NATO officials say that claim is false. The Biden administration says Russia has increased its troop presence at Ukraine's border by as many as 7,000.

Florida abortion bill: The state house approved a measure banning abortions after 15 weeks. Similar bills were also passed this week by West Virginia’s House and Arizona’s Senate — all inspired by a Mississippi abortion law now before the Supreme Court.

The U.S. is defeated in women's Olympic hockey: Canada triumphed over its longtime rival— and the defending Olympic champion — to win its fifth gold medal in the sport.

🎧 Also, on Up First, our daily podcast, the Department of Justice is suing Missouri over its controversial firearm law.

— The Morning Edition live blog team

(Carol Ritchie, Rachel Treisman, Nell Clark and Chris Hopkins)


Google celebrates Dr. Michiaki Takahashi, developer of the chickenpox vaccine

Posted February 17, 2022 at 12:01 PM EST
The Google Doodle, featuring Dr. Michiaki Takahashi.
Thursday's Google Doodle features Dr. Michiaki Takahashi, who helped develop the chickenpox vaccine.

Google is celebrating Dr. Michiaki Takahashi, the Japanese virologist credited with developing an early version of the chickenpox vaccine, with its Google Doodle on Thursday. It would have been his 94th birthday.

Takahashi, whodied of heart failure in 2013, was born in Osaka, Japan, in 1928. He spent years researching measles and polio vaccines. But once his son Teruyuki fell severely ill with a rapidly spreading rash, a fever and trouble breathing, Takahashi changed his focus.

“He was in a terrible way, and all my wife and I could do was to watch him day and night,” Takahashi told the Financial Times in 2011. “We didn’t sleep.”

Once Teruyuki recovered, Takahashi shifted his efforts to the development of a chickenpox vaccine. Within five years, Takahashi developed an early version of the chickenpox that began clinical trials in 1972, according to The New York Times’ obituary for the virologist.

Soon, Japan and other countries would begin expansive vaccination programs. Meanwhile, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration didn’t approve the vaccine until 1995. Among the factors that contributed to the delay in the U.S. was concern that the virus might not be serious enough to prevent with a vaccine, according to The New York Times archives.

Takahashi is also the namesake of the Japanese Society for Vaccinology's Takahashi Award, given to those accomplishing “outstanding contributions academically or practically that are in line with the purposes of our organization,” according to its website.

COVID-19 and kids

The White House says it will make more high-quality masks available for kids

Posted February 17, 2022 at 11:38 AM EST

The Biden administration will soon make more high-quality masks available for kids.

Dr. Tom Inglesby, senior adviser to the White House COVID- 19 Response Team, said in a briefing on Wednesday that 230 million masks have already been delivered to pharmacies and community health centers. And now, he said, there will be an expanded effort focused on children.

"We are now in the process of planning for the distribution of masks for children. And we'll have more to say about that in the days ahead. But there's a commitment to do that, and there's a process underway, certainly, for all adults to get masks now for free at pharmacies and community health clinics across the country," Inglesby said.

It is not yet clear what type of masks will be distributed. Standard masks do not always fit small faces well.

Children under 5 are not yet able to receive vaccines, and vaccination for children old enough to receive the vaccine lags other groups.

The CDC recommends that anyone age 2 or older who is not vaccinated to wear masks in indoor public spaces.

The move comes as many states have recently been dropping mask requirements for schoolchildren.


Sit back, relax and watch this elephant cause a traffic jam in Thailand

Posted February 17, 2022 at 11:15 AM EST

A pair of wild elephants caused traffic chaos, holding up dozens of cars as they strolled through rural roads in Thailand.

A male jumbo named Yoyo — known for his stubbornness and frequent appearances — was spotted walking near a waterfall on Sunday. A queue of motorists had to wait behind the elephant as he ambled along the highway and casually munched on some roadside foliage.

At the same time, another elephant known as Duan emerged on a road around five miles away from Yoyo's location.

“Duan is less stubborn compared with Yoyo, but we're worried that there could be problems if they ever happened to meet each other," said wildlife officer Visut Sinka, who is familiar with the elephants in the Khao Yai National Park in Prachinburi province. "It's a challenge controlling traffic with just one elephant, but if there were two behaving aggressively, it would be dangerous.”

Park rangers were deployed to keep the two from crossing paths, as Duan was in musth and exhibiting heightened aggressive behavior. Authorities successfully lured the elephants into the jungle before they could encounter each other.

Despite the traffic jam reportedly lasting for several hours, visitors to the area who had hoped to be closer to nature said they were pleased with the elephant sightings.

Elephants are the national animal of Thailand. An estimated 2,000 elephants are living in the wild and a similar number in captivity.

In the wild, they roam through the deep jungle and in the country's protected national parks, but often encounter humans on roads and in villages leading to conflict with residents.

However, they are protected by laws, and killing them carries a maximum prison term of up to three years and a fine of 1,000 baht ($31).

International Dispatch
From Baghdad

UN warns that relief for millions of people in Yemen could end next month

Posted February 17, 2022 at 11:03 AM EST
People sit on the ground in front of colorful red, yellow and green packages of food and other aid supplies.
Khaled Ziad
AFP via Getty Images
People displaced by conflict receive food aid and provisions to meet their basic needs at a camp in the Khokha district of Yemen's war-ravaged western province of Hodeida in January.

The United Nations is warning that relief supplies to nearly 8 million people in Yemen could be cut off next month, as funding runs out for aid flights and international food distribution efforts.

The UN’s top relief official, Martin Griffiths, says the gap between the humanitarian needs in Yemen and resources to address them is unprecedented and getting worse every month.

The 7-year-old war in Yemen has driven millions of people from their homes, pushed 5 million to the brink of famine and brought chaos to one of the poorest countries in the world.

The World Food Program cut back on rations to 8 million Yemenis in December, due to a lack of funds. Starting next month, Griffiths says, those international food donations could be cut to zero.

Fighting between Iranian-backed rebels and a Saudi-led coalition has intensified recently, claiming more than 650 civilian lives in January. Griffiths says this is the highest death toll in Yemen in the last three years.

Just In
Russia-Ukraine Crisis

Russia has expelled the No. 2 U.S. diplomat from Moscow

Posted February 17, 2022 at 10:41 AM EST
The exterior of the U.S. embassy in Moscow.
Alexander Nemenov
AFP via Getty Images
Russian police stand guard in front of the U.S. Embassy in Moscow in 2016.

Russia has expelled U.S. Deputy Chief of Mission Bartle Gorman, the second-most senior diplomat at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow after Ambassador John Sullivan.

Russia also today presented President Vladimir Putin’s response to President Biden’s response to Russian demands regarding the Ukraine crisis. The Russian response was presented to Sullivan.

A State Department official said Gorman’s expulsion is not related to the exchange of letters between Putin and Biden. Rather, it’s part of an ongoing tit-for-tat of diplomatic expulsions. Most recently, the U.S. began requiring Russian diplomats who’ve been in the U.S. for more than three years to leave.

In a statement, the official said Gorman “recently departed in a regular diplomatic rotation at the end of his tour in January.” 

“Russia’s action against [Gorman] was unprovoked and we consider this an escalatory step and are considering our response.”

Beijing Olympics

U.S. skier Mikaela Shiffrin failed to finish her third race in 2 weeks

Posted February 17, 2022 at 10:20 AM EST
A woman wearing a red and white ski suit skiis against a white snowy background.
Alexis Boichard
Agence Zoom/Getty Images
Mikaela Shiffrin of the U.S. competes during the Women's alpine combined at the Olympics on Thursday in Yanqing, China.

American skier Mikaela Shiffrin appeared poised for a comeback this week, finishing in 9th place in women's super-G last Friday after previously failing to finish her top events.

And she entered the slalom portion — her best event — of Thursday's alpine combined race in fifth place, following the downhill portion. But she crashed about 10 gates into her run, recording her third "did not finish" out of five events at these Winter Games.

The race was her last chance to win an individual medal in Beijing. But she has one more shot at the podium, in the mixed team parallel slalom competition on Saturday.

"It's not always easy, but it's also not the end of the world to fail, fail twice. Fail 5 times. At the Olympics. (Enter me ...)," Shiffrin tweeted in a statement on Thursday. "Why do I keep coming back? Gosh knows it hurts more than it feels good lately. I come back because those first 9 turns today were spectacular, really heaven. That's where I'm meant to be and I'm stubborn as s**t."

The 26-year-old previously won Olympic medals in the giant slalom, slalom and the combined, but didn't cross the finish line in any of those events this time around. She noted that 60% of her DNFs for her entire career have happened in Beijing.

"I don't really understand it. And I'm not sure when I'm going to have much of an explanation," Shiffrin told reporters after the race. "And I can't explain to you how frustrated I am to not know what I can learn from the day."

She said that while she has at times felt the weight of pressure and expectation at the Olympics, "in general, when I was racing, it wasn't the case." She expressed frustration that there weren't any identifiable mistakes for her to fix in order to improve.

"I wanted to ski just a good run of slalom, and I don't know. I feel like a joke," she told NBC. "I don't know if anybody's failed that hard, with so many opportunities, maybe in the history of the Olympics. But I will take it, I mean, it is a joke."

Despite her results, Shiffrin said the last two weeks have brought plenty of positives both in terms of her skiing and the support she's received from others.

"I had some of the best skiing I've ever done here in Beijing. In the training, in the downhill over the last week. In my slalom, even today. And in the race, in the moment when it counts, then I didn't make it to the finish. And that's never happened in my entire career," she said. "So I don't understand it, but there was so much positive that's happened in the last couple weeks, despite how much it really stinks. Sometimes you have to take it."

Michelle Gisin of Switzerland won Thursday's race, with her teammate Wendy Holdener taking home silver and Italy's Federica Brignone winning bronze.

And Shiffrin wasn't the only American to not finish the course: Isabella Wright and Keely Cashman also skied out. American Tricia Mangan finished 11th.

Shiffrin confirmed on Twitter that she will train for the team event on Friday and participate on Saturday.

"There's going to be a whole chaotic mess of crap that people are saying about how I just fantastically failed these last couple of weeks in the moments that actually counted," she told reporters. "It's really strange, but I'm not even afraid of that right now, and maybe it's because I don't have any emotional energy to give anymore."

With that, ESPN reports, she will become just the second woman in history to compete in all six Alpine events in the Olympics.

Russia-Ukraine crisis

Biden calls the threat of Russian invading Ukraine 'very high'

Posted February 17, 2022 at 9:59 AM EST

President Biden on Thursday told reporters at the White House that the threat of a Russian invasion of Ukraine was “very high.”

“My sense is that it will happen in the next several days,” Biden said as he left for a trip to Ohio.

“They have not moved any of their troops out. They’ve moved more troops in,” Biden said when asked why he believe the threat was very high. “We have reason to believe they are engaged in a false flag operation (so) they have an excuse to go in.”

“Every indication we have is they’re prepared to go into Ukraine, attack Ukraine,” Biden said.

Biden said the U.S. embassy in Moscow had received a letter from Russian President Vladimir Putin responding to U.S. proposals on security measures, but said he had not read it yet and could not comment on it. He said he had no plans to call Putin.

He said he had sent Secretary of State Antony Blinken to the United Nations to lay out a diplomatic path to avert an invasion. “There is a way through it,” Biden said.


Victoria's Secret features its first model with Down syndrome

Posted February 17, 2022 at 9:34 AM EST

Sofía Jirau is making history as the first Victoria's Secret model with Down syndrome. She joins 17 other women in the company's newest

Jirau, who is also Latina, is part of the Love Cloud collection, which features women described by the company as being from a "myriad of backgrounds." Other models include Celilo Miles, a wildland firefighter for the Nez Perce Tribe, Jailyn Matthews, a fitness trainer, and Hailey Bieber.

"One day I dreamed of it, I worked on it and today it is a dream come true. I can finally tell you my big secret," the Puerto Rican model posted on her Instagram page in Spanish. "I am the first Victoria’s Secret model with Down syndrome!"

The Love Cloud collection launches Thursday and commits to "sophisticated comfort," the company said.

"Love Cloud Collection is a major moment in the brand's evolution," said Raúl Martinez, Victoria's Secret's head creative director. "From the cast of incredible women that bring the collection to life, to the incredible inclusive spirit on set, this campaign is an important part of the new Victoria's Secret standard we are creating."

Jirau made her debut at New York Fashion Week in February 2020, according to her website.

"I am proud as one of the few models with Down syndrome who has managed to participate in the important fashion event," she wrote.

In addition to modeling in the U.S., she says she is also "focused on conquering the runways" in Europe this year.

Beijing 2022

Russia's Shcherbakova wins the gold medal in figure skating; Valieva misses the podium

Posted February 17, 2022 at 9:14 AM EST
Anna Shcherbakova skates with one leg in the air and her arm out.
Kirill Kudryavtsev
AFP via Getty Images
Russia's Anna Shcherbakova won the gold medal in the women's single skating free skating event at the Olympics in Beijing on Thursday.

Russian Anna Shcherbakova has won the gold medal in women’s individual figure skating at the Beijing Winter Olympics.

The skaters from Russia went 1-2, with Alexandra Trusova winning silver and Japan’s Kaori Sakamoto taking bronze.

Shcherbakova was exquisite — skating with grace, precision and power and landing two quad jumps.

Kamila Valieva, the controversial skater who had been expected to win, fell several times in her performance and placed fourth. Her participation in the event has been mired in controversy.

She tested positive for a banned heart medication — but it wasn’t revealed until after the 15-year-old helped Russia win the team competition last week. She submitted a sample in December and the lab didn’t return the results for more than 40 days. Her continued presence at these Games has inflamed competitors, coaches and others.

Had Valieva placed in the top three, the International Olympic Committee had said it would take the unprecedented step of not holding a medal ceremony because of Valieva’s positive doping test before the Games.

The three skaters from Russia were the only ones who attempted (and landed) quads in the competition.

Abortion Access

Florida's House joins other state legislatures in passing abortion restrictions

Posted February 17, 2022 at 9:09 AM EST
People walk in front of the Florida Capitol building.
Mark Wallheiser
Getty Images
Supporters of abortion access march in front of the Florida Capitol Building on Wednesday. Florida's House passed a bill limiting many abortions in the state.

Florida is readying to pass a ban on most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, including in cases of incest or rape.

The state appears poised to join others, including Texas, with ultra restrictive abortion laws as the U.S. Supreme Court considers the future of Roe v. Wade.

Similar abortion measures also passed this week in West Virginia's House and the Arizona Senate. The law in Florida is modeled after a Mississippi abortion law that is now being considered by the Supreme Court — their decision could affect abortion access nationwide.

NPR's Greg Allen joined Morning Edition with the latest on how the bill would affect Floridians. Listen here.

The bill that passed Florida's House this week on a mostly party-line vote includes narrow exceptions for fetal abnormalities and to protect the life of the pregnant person. Like Mississippi's law, Florida's bill doesn't include exceptions for rape or incest. Only about 3.5 percent of abortions in Florida happen after 15 weeks, but that means thousands of pregnancies, Allen reports.

Florida currently allows abortions until 24 weeks of pregnancy, but if the bill becomes law, that limit would drop to 15 for most abortions.

Dr. Samantha Deans, an associate medical director with Planned Parenthood in Florida, says most fetal anomalies aren’t detected by 15 weeks.

"You cannot perform an amniocentesis until the second trimester and generally speaking, we don’t perform an amniocentesis until 16 to 20 weeks," Deans says. "That’s just a medical fact."

Under the bill, if a fetal abnormality is discovered after 15 weeks, two doctors would need to certify the baby wouldn't survive long after birth before an abortion would be allowed.

Supporters of the bill concede it runs counter to the protections enshrined in Roe v. Wade, but say that by passing this law, Florida would be ready if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, reports Allen.

Next, the bill moves to Florida's Senate, where it is expected to pass before it arrives on Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis' desk.


The FAA administrator is stepping down

Posted February 17, 2022 at 8:50 AM EST
FAA Chief Steve Dickson pictured in September 2020.
Mike Siegel/Pool
Getty Images
FAA chief Steve Dickson answers questions about his test flight of a Boeing 737 MAX during a press conference after landing at Boeing Field on Sept. 30, 2020, in Seattle, Wash. Dickson announced he is leaving the FAA.

The head of the Federal Aviation Administration, who took over the agency amid allegations of lax oversight in the aftermath of two Boeing 737 MAX airplane crashes, is stepping down.

FAA Administrator Steve Dickson is a former Air Force and Delta Air Lines pilot who worked his way up to be Delta's senior vice president of flight operations.

He came out of retirement from Delta to head up the FAA, which at the time was under intense scrutiny for certifying Boeing’s 737 MAX jetliner, when two of the planes crashed and killed a total of 346 people.

The FAA had approved the new jetliner while knowing little about an automated flight control system that crash investigators blame for playing a significant role in the crashes.

Dickson refused to approve the 737 MAX to fly passengers again until he flew the plane himself, which he did in September of 2020.

Dickson told FAA employees in a letter that he was proud of his tenure, saying, “The agency is in a better place than it was two years ago, and we are positioned for great success.”

He said his decision comes with “mixed emotions and a heavy heart.”

“Nevertheless, after sometimes long and unavoidable periods of separation from my loved ones during the pandemic, it is time to devote my full time and attention to them. As I wrote in my letter to President Biden, it is time to go home,” he told employees.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said the 64-year-old Dickson "has been the FAA’s steady and skilled captain.”

In a statement, Buttigieg said Dickson's tenure “has been marked by steadfast commitment to the FAA’s safety mission ... and his lifelong dedication to making sure our aviation system is the best and safest in the world.”

Beijing Olympics

Canada beats the U.S. in women's hockey, the latest twist in a long-running rivalry

Posted February 17, 2022 at 8:31 AM EST
Women in red jerseys stand in a line on the ice, wearing gold medals and holding flower bouquets in their raised arms.
Bruce Bennett
Getty Images
Team Canada beat Team USA in Thursday's women's ice hockey gold medal match at Wukesong Sports Centre in Beijing.

Canada defeated the United States 3-2 in the women's ice hockey final on Thursday, triumphing over its longtime rival — and the defending Olympic champion — to win its fifth gold medal in the sport.

Either Canada or the U.S. has won every gold medal since women's hockey was introduced to the winter Olympics in 1998, with Team USA most recently beating its northern neighbor in the gold medal match at the 2018 Pyeongchang Games. It will be taking home a silver medal, the fourth in its history, after failing to make up for Canada's strong start.

The Canadians took a 2-to-0 lead in the first period, extending that to 3 before the U.S. could score its first goal. The Americans scored again with just 13 seconds left in the game, but by that point, it was too late.

Players and coaches from both teams reflected on the match, speaking to reporters at the Wukesong Sports Centre.

"It was one hell of an effort. This is redemption," said Canadian captain Marie-Philip Poulin, who scored two of the game's goals and became the only ice hockey player — male or female — to score in four Olympic Games finals.

Canada's head coach, Troy Ryan, said it was great to see the team's hard work pay off.

"I felt they just battled hard and found ways to get in front of pucks," he said. "They were able to score, but we were able to kill enough time off the clock."

Team USA had 40 shots on goal, double what Canada attempted.

"We were never going to give up. We knew that," said U.S. defender Lee Stecklein. "We're disappointed at the outcome but very proud of our team."

There were notable individual accomplishments, too.

Team USA's Hilary Knight, who put her team on the scoreboard during Thursday's game, became the fourth player from the U.S. to win four Olympic Games medals in ice hockey.

Canada's Sarah Nurse is taking home the title of the overall scoring leader in the Games, with five goals and 13 assists for a total of 18 points — breaking a record set by Canada's Hayley Wickenheiser in 2006. Teammate Brianne Jenner scored the most goals at Beijing 2022, with nine.

Rounding out the podium, Finland defeated Switzerland 4-0 on Wednesday to claim the bronze medal for a fourth time.

The Canadian athletes appeared eager to celebrate their return to the throne, with many noting the teammates enjoy each others' company off the ice too. Natalie Spooner said the night would likely involve some singing and dancing.

"Our group is so much fun that when we're around each other we have a blast," Spooner said. "I'm sure tonight is going to be no different."

Russia-Ukraine Crisis

Russia reportedly adds troops near Ukraine, while tensions rise in the Donbas region

Posted February 17, 2022 at 8:11 AM EST
Three people wearing white outfits and carrying guns walk in the snow beside a barbed-wire fence.
Sergey Bobok
AFP via Getty Images
Ukrainian frontier guards walk along the border with Russia, some 40 km from the second-largest Ukrainian city of Kharkiv, on Wednesday.

Russia says it's withdrawing some of its military forces from the border with Ukraine, but U.S. and NATO officials say that claim is false.

In fact, a senior U.S. administration official told reporters yesterday that Russia has increased its troop presence by as many as 7,000 within the last few days. Read more here.

The U.S. says it's offering a clear-eyed assessment of the threat Russia poses to Ukraine, while Russia accuses the U.S. of whipping up hysteria and spreading lies. Where do things stand today?

National security correspondent Greg Myre walks us through the latest on Morning Edition. Listen here or read on for details.

On Russia's troops

The senior U.S. official says Russia is publicly talking about de-escalation while privately mobilizing for war.

Russia's defense ministry has offered evidence of its alleged troop drawdown, releasing videos like one showing trains hauling out tanks and other armored vehicles.

But according to the U.S., Russia has added about 7,000 troops in recent days for a total of more than 150,000 in the region. And Britain says Russia has added armored vehicles, helicopters and a field hospital, and has all the forces it needs to carry out an invasion.

On diplomatic efforts

As Western leaders have cycled through Moscow to meet with President Vladimir Putin, are there any signs we could be moving towards a diplomatic breakthrough?

"Well, the short answer is no," Myre says.

Putin and top aides say there's still room for dialogue, but "we've seen a succession of European leaders visit Putin in the Kremlin and we haven't seen any real progress," he explains.

There's still a good deal of diplomatic activity taking place. For example, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is in Brussels meeting with defense ministers from NATO countries, standing shoulder-to-shoulder in a show of unity that Myre says appears to be solid.

On tensions in the Donbas region

According to State Department spokesperson Ned Price, Russia is now pushing a completely unfounded claim that Ukrainians are carrying out mass killings of Russian civilians in the eastern Ukrainian region known as the Donbas.

And both the Ukrainian government and separatist fighters there are accusing each other of shelling today.

"They've been fighting in this area for years, but at a tense moment like right now, there's a fear that such attacks or even false claims could escalate very quickly," Myre says.

Click here to read more on how a Russian invasion of Ukraine could hurt Americans.