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Catch up on all the news you might have missed with our handy summary of the week’s top stories.

Tensions continue to rise in Russia–Ukraine conflict despite peace negotiations

Tensions between Russia and Ukraine continue to escalate, as on this week Thursday, Russia began a series of military exercises in Belarus with naval drills taking place on the Black Sea. These military exercises are the largest that Russia has ever conducted out of Belarus. All of this has been occurring simultaneously with diplomacy talks in Berlin.

On Thursday, negotiations between Russia, Ukraine, France, and Germany intended to revive the 2015 Minsk accord, which was meant to end the conflict in eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region, concluded after only nine hours of talks. While Russian officials have described the negotiation as ending in a “stalemate,” the representative for the Ukrainian government took a more hopeful approach saying, “there are differences but there is will to talk further.” Negotiations are set to resume in March.

Russia continues to deny any plan to invade Ukraine. Western nations are continuing to push for peace efforts, while also ramping up their military presence in the region. —Gabriella Patti

‘Freedom Convoy’ blocks U.S.–Canada border crossings

Three border crossings between the United States and Canada are currently blocked off by truckers and other demonstrators in protests related to COVID-19 restrictions. The protest originated within several provinces in Canada, ultimately converging in Ottawa at Parliament Hill. Now, truckers have parked their big rigs and other vehicles on U.S.-Canadian border crossings in Michigan, Montana, and North Dakota, slowing the movement of goods and delaying production for companies that rely on the exchange of goods across the border.

While the protests began due to Canadian truckers opposing the nation’s new rule that requires them to be fully vaccinated when crossing the Canada-U.S. border or face a two-week quarantine, the convoy and blockades have since attracted others who oppose COVID restrictions and mask-enforcement rules.

U.S. government officials have urged the Canadian government to use federal powers to resolve the issue. In the meantime, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has warned that the convoy could disrupt Super Bowl LVI in Los Angeles, this Sunday, February 13, and the U.S. side of the protest could make its way to Washington D.C. by March. —GP

Oscar nominations are out, and The Power of the Dog leads

The nominees for the 94th annual Academy Awards are out, and if you own any type of streaming service, it’s likely that you’ve seen at least one or two. Netflix’s The Power of the Dog led the pack with 12 nominations. Other Netflix films, including Don’t Look Up and The Lost Daughter, snagged several nominations. Thanks to The Power of the Dog, Kirsten Dunst received her first Oscar nomination, this time for Best Supporting Actress.

After The Power of the Dog, the next most nominated films were Dune, West Side Story, Belfast, and King Richard. On top of these films, Best Picture nominees also include CODA, Drive My Car, Licorice Pizza, and Nightmare Alley.

Other notable nominees: Disney’s wildly popular Encanto received three nominations. Kirsten Stewart earned her first Oscar nod, a Best Actress nomination, for playing Princess Diana in Spencer. Other Best Actress nominees are Jessica Chastain (The Eyes of Tammy Faye), Olivia Colman (The Lost Daughter), Penélope Cruz (Parallel Mothers), and Nicole Kidman (Being the Ricardos).

Best Actor nominees are Javier Bardem (Being the Ricardos), Benedict Cumberbatch (The Power of the Dog), Andrew Garfield (Tick, Tick … Boom!), Will Smith (King Richard), and Denzel Washington (The Tragedy of Macbeth).

Who will win? We’ll find out soon enough. This year’s Academy Awards will air on Sunday, March 27. —Madeline Fry Schultz

Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai retires, backtracks on sexual assault allegations

In November, Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai accused a high-ranking Chinese official of pressuring her into a sexual relationship. After that, she disappeared.

She reappeared in the spotlight this week to say she never accused former vice-premier Zhang Gaoli of sexual misconduct and she would be retiring from professional tennis. “I never said anyone had sexually assaulted me in any way,” she told a French outlet in what the Washington Post called a “carefully managed interview.”

Shuai said even her disappearance was a misunderstanding. “It’s just that a lot of people, like my friends, including from the [International Olympic Committee], messaged me, and it was quite impossible to reply to so many messages,” she said.

After Shuai’s post last fall detailing her sexual misconduct allegations, the apparent retribution of the Chinese government was quick. The Washington Post reports, “As a rare public accusation of sexual impropriety involving a high-level Chinese Communist Party official, the post drew widespread discussion in China before it swiftly vanished — along with Peng herself and almost all related commentary on Chinese social media websites.”

Yaxue Cao, founder of China Change, noted that in Shuai’s recent interview, she wore a red jacket representing China. “It’s by design,” she tweeted, “from what she says to what she wears. It’s the Chinese [government] claiming sovereignty over Peng Shuai. It’s a warning to foreigners, especially to [the Women's Tennis Association].”

A New York Post editorial noted that Shuai received support from fellow athletes during her disappearance, but some may be afraid to speak out now: “Other athletes, including Naomi Osaka and Serena Williams, spoke up for Peng Shuai after her initial disappearance. But anyone now competing in Beijing may not yet dare. After all, China warned foreign athletes they’re subject to Chinese law for speech violations.” —MFS

U.S. Olympic skier Nina O’Brien breaks leg at Olympics

One year ago, U.S. Olympic skier Nina O’Brien won the U.S. title in giant slalom.

Last week, she was ranked 24th in the world and 6th during the first giant slalom run, the highest out of U.S. women.

But at the finish of her second run, 24-year-old O’Brien suffered a compound fracture of her left tibia and fibula after an intense fall, according to ESPN.

The race was delayed for 15 minutes after O’Brien slid across the finish line, stumbling through the last gate as her skis parted out from under her.

O’Brien was taken to hospital in Yanqing, Beijing for “an initial stabilization procedure.” The team said she will return to the U.S. for further evaluation and care.

O’Brien posted a photo on her Instagram account from a hospital in Beijing’s Yanqing District, near the Olympics Alpine skiing venue.

“Well, I gave everything I had, and maybe too much,” O’Brien wrote on in the Instagram post. “I keep replaying it in my head, wishing I’d skied those last few gates differently. But here we are.”

Though O’Brien is out for the rest of the Olympics, she said that she’s grateful for all the support she’s received in the past week and is excited for those that still get to compete.

“I’m a little heartbroken, but also feeling so much love,” O’Brien wrote on Instagram. “Thank you to everyone who’s reached out. The good news is that today is a new day—and I get to cheer on my teammates.” —Hannah Cote

Coronavirus may invade and destroy the placenta, leading to stillbirths

Researchers in 12 countries, including the United States, analyzed placental and autopsy tissue from 64 stillbirths and four newborns who died shortly after birth. The cases all involved unvaccinated women who had COVID-19 during their pregnancy, according to AP News.

The study shows evidence from small case reports and confirms that placenta damage rather than an infection of the fetus is the likely cause of many COVID-19-related stillbirths, said Dr. Jeffery Goldstein, a pathologist at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine.

A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report from November found that among pregnant U.S. women infected with COVID-19, about 1 in 80 deliveries were a stillbirth, compared with 1 in 155 among uninfected women.

Though stillbirths are uncommon, previous evidence suggests the chances of stillbirth are higher than usual for pregnant women with COVID-19, particularly from the Delta variant. It is unclear whether Omicron infections also increase the chances for stillbirths; the study was done before that variant emerged, according to AP News.

Dr. David Schwartz, an Atlanta pathologist, said other infections can damage the placenta and cause stillbirth. But in all COVID-19 cases, nearly all of them had over 90 percent of the placenta destroyed. While other infections can sometimes damage the placenta, Schwartz said he’d never seen them cause such consistent, extensive destruction.

The virus likely reached the placenta through the bloodstream, researchers said, attaching to susceptible cells and causing protein deposits and an unusual form of inflammation that blocked blood flow and oxygen. In turn, that led to placenta tissue death and suffocation. —HC

Good News of the Week

Dolly Parton’s theme park pledges to pay all tuition costs for employees pursuing higher education

Fans of country singer Dolly Parton are no strangers to her acts of generosity, from helping to fund the Moderna vaccine to giving away free books to children.

So it should come as no great surprise that Parton’s amusement park, Dollywood, located in Tennessee, will now offer any employee pursuing higher education the funds needed to cover their tuition costs.

Starting February 24, Herschend Enterprises, Dollywood’s parent company, will offer all 11,000 Herschend employees — seasonal, part-time, and full-time – an opportunity to register for the GROW U pilot program, which will cover 100 percent of diploma, degree and certificate programs offered by 30 learning partners. The company has also pledged to pay partial tuition costs for several additional educational programs.

Wes Ramey, a spokesman for Dollywood Co., said that Dolly is “very supportive” of the employees.

“It’s an opportunity to give back to adults at the park,” Ramey said. “Whenever Dolly is involved in something, she makes sure it’s the best possible thing for everyone involved.” —GP

Watch of the Week

Team USA figure skater Nathan Chen performed a spectacular free skate at the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, earning his first Olympic gold medal. He is the second American man to win a figuring skating gold medal in 30 years. Congratulations, Nathan!