Confusion continues to reign in eastern Ukraine, where pro-Russia gunmen remain in control of many government offices even as the Ukrainian military sends in troops, tanks and armed aircraft in an attempt to dislodge them.
According to NPR's Ari Shapiro, who is in eastern Ukraine, locals who are pushing to separate from the central government and join the Russian Federation claim that at least some Ukrainian troops are refusing to move against them.
In the city of Slovyansk, Ari said on Morning Edition, protesters say that Ukrainian military personnel carriers approached Wednesday with solders who were looking "bedraggled, tired and dirty." Protesters say that after being given food and water and having a "nice conversation" with residents, Russian flags were raised on the vehicles and they went "rolling off to Slovyansk."
"A soldier guarding one of six troop carriers now under the control of pro-Russian separatists told Reuters he was a member of Ukraine's 25th paratrooper division from Dnipropetrovsk. 'All the soldiers and the officers are here. We are all boys who won't shoot our own people,' said the soldier, whose uniform did not have any identifying markings on it. 'They haven't fed us for three days on our base. They're feeding us here. Who do you think we are going to fight for?,' he said."
In the city of Kramatorsk, though, there are "no Russian flags to be seen," Ari reported. It was there, as we reported Tuesday, that Ukrainian troops regained control of the local airfield. "A couple people were wounded" during a brief clash with pro-Russia gunmen, Ari said, "but we're told that nobody was killed."
Still, the BBC writes that while "Ukrainian troops have entered the eastern town of Kramatorsk ... they were blocked by civilians and the situation is unclear, amid reports that some may have abandoned their vehicles or even changed sides."
Ukraine's acting defense minister, Mykhailo Koval, is reportedly going to Kramatorsk. He will attempt to send a message, Ari said, that the central government is still in control of the region. But most of the locals he's met in eastern Ukraine, Ari added, "emphatically agree" with the protesters who want to join the Russian Federation.
As we've written before, there are fears about what may happen if there are clashes between Ukrainian forces and the demonstrators in a part of Ukraine where many residents are ethnic Russians.
The Associated Press has noted that "Russia has warned the Kiev government against using force against the protesters in the east and has threatened to cancel an international diplomatic conference on the Ukrainian conflict scheduled for later this week." There are reportedly tens of thousands of Russian troops just across the border. Russia says they were conducting military exercises.
Last month, Russian forces moved into what was the Ukrainian-controlled Crimean Peninsula. Since then, Russia has annexed Crimea — an act that Ukraine, the U.S. and many other nations have deemed a violation of international law.
For much more about the crisis in Ukraine and how it has unfolded, see our earlier posts.
The daily lowdown on books, publishing, and the occasional author behaving badly.
- Ginny Weasley, the freckly, flame-haired girl who later marries Harry Potter, grows up to be a sports journalist, according to new writing from J.K. Rowling on the website Pottermore. (Login required.) The stories are Ginny's dispatches from the 2014 Quidditch World Cup for the magical newspaper The Daily Prophet. "Not a single Quaffle thrown, not a single Snitch caught, but the 427th Quidditch World Cup is already mired in controversy," she writes. "Magizoologists have congregated in the desert to contain the mayhem and Healers have attended more than 300 crowd members suffering from shock, broken bones and bites."
- In Vanity Fair, Ian McEwan talks about having dinner with Salman Rushdie, who had a fatwa out against him: "I remember standing the next morning with Salman in the country kitchen, a gray English morning, and he was the lead item on the BBC — another Middle East figure saying he too would condemn him to death. It was a very sad moment — standing buttering toast and listening to that awful message on the radio."
- James Salter remembers Peter Matthiessen, the writer and naturalist who died earlier this month: "His illness was private. It lasted more than a year, and the treatment was difficult. During it, as he became weaker, with his characteristic determination he wrote a final book, just published this past week, 'In Paradise.' He died at home, and his wife, his son Alex, and Zen family washed his body as in ancient times."
- The editorial director of Ecco, Lee Boudreaux, is leaving the HarperCollins imprint to launch "Boudreaux," her own imprint at Little, Brown. She told Publisher's Weekly that the imprint will allow her to "discover the kind of electrifying and unexpected voices I've grown to treasure."
- Man Booker winner Eleanor Catton writes about the process of finding inspiration for a novel: "Creative influence can have a positive or a negative charge, either imitative ('I want to try that!') or defiant ('I want to see that done differently'). Both kinds of influence are vital for the health of an idea. Too defiant, and the idea will be shrill; too imitative, and the idea will be safe. For me, the moment when these two charges first come together — when I connect, imaginatively, something that I love as a reader with something that I long for as a reader — is the moment the idea for a story is born."
While the magic of flight is still worth marveling at (Note: This video contains adult language some might find offensive.), the airline industry remains held back in a few areas that really need an upgrade. It's 2014 and you can still find gate agents using dot matrix printers. And we've already written about the hopelessly poor user experience of paper boarding passes.
But at the end of this year, Air France and KLM are rolling out an innovation for the baggage checking part of your journeys. Since checking a bag often means waiting in long lines and mysteriously lost luggage, the airlines have developed a pair of tools to let passengers more easily check and track their luggage: the eTag and the eTrack.
The eTag is a permanent electronic label that lets you load the flight data for the tag at home before the flight, replacing the current airline luggage sticker. It uses Bluetooth technology and syncs with your smartphone, so passengers won't need to relabel bags for each trip — details are updated automatically. But perhaps the most time-saving part of this is that using the eTag means passengers get to just drop off bags at a fast drop, no agent-interaction required.
Separately, the eTrack is a geolocating gadget to pop inside your luggage so you can trace it worldwide. That location information will be available to both the customer (through a smartphone app), and the airline, so if a bag is misplaced or shows up on the wrong aircraft, the airline can get to it.
As you can expect, battery life of the eTrack — the homing device for your bag — will be a bit of a hassle. It needs to be recharged after about 10 flights, depending on how often you ping your suitcase.
While the devices will be sold separately, passengers can use the eTag and eTrack together. The product folks behind the effort say they're hoping these devices become adopted by other airlines across the industry.
"We've worked closely with our suppliers and with Delta to try to make this an industry initiative, not just an airline initiative," Manuel van Lijf, Air France-KLM's product innovation manager, told FutureTravelExperience.com.
"The idea was to create a product that can be used by a passenger flying with Air France, KLM, Delta, Lufthansa or another airline, for instance. Why would a passenger buy a permanent tag that can only be used on one airline?"
There's no price tag on these devices yet, but the airlines have said frequent fliers will get to try them out, first. The plan is to start releasing the eTrack and eTag in December to a small group of travelers and then roll them out to more users.
About 300 people, many of them high school students and teachers who were on a trip to a resort island, were missing Wednesday after a ferry disaster off the southern coast of South Korea.
The ship, which left the city of Incheon on South Korea's western coast Tuesday night, sent out a distress signal around 9 a.m. local time on Wednesday. That was 8 p.m. ET Tuesday. The trip south to Jeju Island was supposed to take about 14 hours. According to The Associated Press, the students and teachers are from a high school in Ansan city near Seoul.
By the time rescuers arrived on the scene, the ship was on its side. After about 2 hours, according to NPR's Anthony Kuhn, the ship had turned over completely and most of it was under water. Anthony, who is monitoring the news from Beijing, said on Morning Edition that authorities believe more than 470 people were on board before the ferry went down. It was well below capacity: According to Anthony, the ship can carry as many as 900 passengers.
South Korea's Yonhap News Agency reports that "fears have grown that many of those unaccounted for could be trapped inside the sunken ship and died."
NPR's Frank Langfitt, who is following the news from Shanghai, tells our Newscast Desk that the South Korean Coast Guard reports it rescued at least 164 people before the ferry sank. The water temperature in the area is just above 50 degrees Fahrenheit, Frank reports, and "South Korean authorities say people swimming in water at that temperature show signs of hypothermia after 90 minutes or two hours."
A U.S. Navy ship is heading to the site to assist South Korean rescuers.
According to Yonhap News:
"The cause of the accident was not known, though survivors said they heard a banging noise before the ship suddenly started sinking. Speculation has arisen that the ship might have hit an underwater rock or collided with another vessel. ...
"The ship, which plies between Incheon and Jeju [Island] twice a week, was built in Japan in 1994, is 146 meter long and 22 meter wide, and has the maximum capacity of carrying 921 people, 180 vehicles and 152 shipping containers at the same time."