Ukrainian police reportedly stormed on Feb. 18 protest barricades set up since November in Kiev’s city center. As fires engulfed the city of 5 million and riot police could be seen beating protesters, authorities shut down public transportation and major roads, stranding Ukrainians on a workday amid the inferno. “What we have seen has shocked us,” said Jonathan Eide, an American working in Kiev.
A secret recording captured Victoria Nuland, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for Europe and Eurasian affairs, making disparaging comments about the European Union in what she thought was a private conversation. “F*** the EU,” Nuland told Geoffrey Pyatt, the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine. Nuland and Pyatt have been trying to negotiate an end to tensions in Ukraine, where for weeks citizens have protested the government strengthening ties with Russia over the EU. Russian officials were among the first to draw attention to the conversation uploaded to YouTube, which, according to White House press secretary Jay Carney, “says something about Russia’s role” in the eavesdropping.
Cease and desist
An independent organization hired to investigate sex abuse allegations at Bob Jones University announced BJU abruptly terminated the agreement on Jan. 27. GRACE (Godly Response to Abuse in Christian Environment) said the Greenville, S.C., school did not give a reason for ending the probe only weeks before a scheduled final report. GRACE had started the probe in November 2012. BJU officials said no specific allegations sparked the investigation, but they are committed to completing it “either with GRACE or with another third party.”
New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez dropped his lawsuit against Major League Baseball and accepted a 162-game ban for using performance-enhancing drugs. In January, days after the league reduced his suspension from 211 games to 162, A-Rod sued both MLB and the players’ union, but he abruptly dropped both without comment four weeks later. The ban is the longest in baseball history and includes the 2014 playoffs. Although A-Rod admitted to using steroids while playing for the Texas Rangers, he says he’s been clean since joining the Yankees in 2004.
The games begin
Opening ceremonies for the 22nd Olympic Winter Games commenced in Sochi, Russia, amid terrorism concerns and a snub from top U.S. officials. The Sochi games were by far the most expensive in history, but that didn’t prevent a litany of problems: On Twitter, #SochiProblems outpaced #Sochi2014 as a trending topic. One photo went viral after U.S. bobsledder Johnny Quinn destroyed a bathroom door when he got stuck inside for an hour. The games were the first in history to include U.S. athletes competing on Russian soil. (The United States boycotted the 1980 Moscow summer games.)
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced the Department of Justice would immediately expand legal protections to include same-sex couples across the country, regardless of states’ laws on homosexual marriage. The decision leaves states prohibiting same-sex unions in murky legal waters after the Supreme Court last year ruled they have the right to craft their own marriage laws. The policy change—announced at a gay rights advocacy fundraiser in New York—mainly affects visitation rights and legal and financial matters between same-sex partners.
The Obama administration continued to pick and choose which parts of Obamacare to enforce, this time delaying the employer mandate for one year for companies with between 50 and 99 employees. Republicans weren’t impressed: “Where is the relief for American families who are suffering from this law?” said Rep. Diane Black, R-Tenn. The Affordable Care Act requires all companies with at least 50 full-time employees to provide insurance this year, but last July the administration unilaterally issued a one-year delay. Companies with more than 100 employees still have to offer coverage at the beginning of 2015.
A terrorist instructor killed himself and 21 of his students when he accidentally detonated explosives at a militant training camp 60 miles north of Baghdad. The explosion injured an additional 15 fighters and alerted authorities to the training camp, which was unusually deep into central Iraq. Authorities arrested eight militants who tried to flee the area. They belonged to the group ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) that in January took control of the key city of Fallujah.
Former actress Shirley Temple Black, the original child star who avoided much of the dysfunction seen in today’s young stars, died of natural causes at age 85. Temple, who started acting at 3, won a special Academy Award in 1935 at the age of 6 and made more than 40 movies before her 12th birthday, including Bright Eyes, Heidi, and Curly Top. She went on to enjoy a lengthy career as a diplomat beginning in 1969, serving as U.S. Ambassador to Ghana and Czechoslovakia. Temple married twice and had three children.
House Republicans couldn’t agree on what to demand in exchange for raising the nation’s debt limit, so House Speaker John Boehner brought up a “clean” bill that only increased U.S. borrowing power for 13 months. Most GOP members blasted the measure as irresponsible—only 28 Republicans voted for it—and some called for new leadership if Republicans hang on to the majority in the fall elections. The next day the Senate passed the measure on a 55-43 party line vote. Said Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas: “Today’s vote is yet another example that establishment politicians from both parties are simply not listening to the American people.”
A federal judge struck down part of Kentucky’s ban on same-sex marriage, ruling the state could keep its own prohibition but must recognize other states’ marriages. John G. Heyburn II wrote that refusing to recognize same-sex marriages performed elsewhere treats homosexual couples differently in a “way that demeans them.” Conservative groups such as the Family Research Council denounced the ruling, calling it a “deep betrayal of a judicial system infected with activist judges who are legislating from the bench.” In 2004, a 74-percent majority of Kentuckians approved a constitutional amendment limiting marriage to one man and one woman.
One more season
New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter, one of the best players in baseball history, announced 2014 will be his final season. Jeter debuted in 1995 and has since won five World Series titles (seven appearances), five Silver Slugger awards, five Gold Glove awards, and made 13 all-star game appearances. He currently ranks 10th on the all-time hits list with 3,314, but he could climb as high as fifth if he plays a full season. Jeter, who turns 40 in June, said he’s spent the last 20 years living his dream but numerous injuries have led him to retirement.
Edward O. Blews Jr. sued the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU) for $2.2 million in lost wages, saying the group fired him without cause and tarnished his reputation after he tried to address systemic problems with the Washington, D.C.–based organization. The suit alleges WORLD’s recent coverage (see “Long Search, Short Tenure,” Feb. 8) further damaged Blews’ reputation with “outrageous allegations,” but he declined to name any specific charges. In a statement the CCCU said it was surprised by the suit, since Blews’ contract requires a Christian mediation process before litigating disputes.
Russian figure skating star Evgeni Plushenko, 31, withdrew from the Sochi Olympics after hurting his back during warm-ups for the men’s short program. The three-time world champion and two-time Olympic gold medalist said he felt “terrible pain” after completing a triple axel and then couldn’t feel his right leg at all after a second try: “It hurt, and that was it. I had to withdraw.” Plushenko, who has had 12 surgeries during his skating career, said his competitive career is over. Meanwhile, as of Feb. 17, the Netherlands had not won a medal at the Sochi games in any sport other than speed skating. But in men’s and women’s speed skating the Dutch had won 17 medals, including five golds, giving the Netherlands as many medals overall as any other country at Sochi. “They’re on fire right now,” U.S. coach Ryan Shimabukuro said of the Dutch skaters. “They’ve got all the momentum going in their direction.”
Death for children
The lower house of Belgium’s Parliament voted 86 to 44 to legalize euthanasia for children, 12 years after the nation legalized adult euthanasia. The Senate previously approved the bill, so it headed for the king’s desk to become law. The measure extends the “right to die.” Before the vote, a group of 175 pediatricians urged lawmakers to take longer considering the consequences and said medical advances prevent terminally ill children from suffering before death.
A federal judge ruled Virginia’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional. U.S. District Judge Arenda Wright Allen issued a stay while the decision is appealed—so same-sex marriages have not begun. Two days prior to the ruling, Sens. Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Ted Cruz, R-Texas, introduced the State Marriage Defense Act, saying the federal government must respect the 33 states that retain traditional marriage definitions, in accordance with last year’s Supreme Court ruling in U.S. v. Windsor.
Los Angeles police arrested former NFL star and current television analyst Darren Sharper, 38, on charges of raping two women after he allegedly lured them to his hotel room and drugged them with a controlled substance. The incidents, which allegedly happened in October and January, may land Sharper behind bars for 30 years, but they could be only the beginning: Authorities in Las Vegas, Arizona, and New Orleans are investigating Sharper for similar crimes. The NFL Network immediately suspended Sharper, a five-time Pro Bowl safety.
Syria peace talks ended in Geneva, Switzerland, without making any progress in resolving the 3-year-old conflict that has displaced millions and left about 140,000 dead. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry blamed Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad for stonewalling the talks and—buoyed by Russian support—refusing to discuss a transitional government. “It is very clear that Bashar Assad is trying to win this on the battlefield instead of coming to the negotiating table in good faith,” Kerry said during a Monday press conference. Syrian leaders blamed the United States for failed negotiations.
Korean killing fields
A United Nations report says the world must act to stop Nazi-like human rights abuses occurring in North Korea. A UN commission spent the last year collecting information and interviewing more than 240 witnesses, many of them North Korean defectors. The report documented prison camps, public executions, torture, and “unspeakable atrocities,” including one woman who was forced to drown her baby because it allegedly had a Chinese father. North Korea claims the report relied on “faked” material.
A 19-year-old woman in jail for murder told a local newspaper she’s killed at least 22 people over the last six years. Miranda Barbour, who professes involvement in a satanic cult, offered little detail about the supposed murders in Alaska, Texas, North Carolina, California, and Pennsylvania: “I don’t care if people believe me. I just want to get it out.” She said she wants to plead guilty for her current charge—luring a man with a Craigslist ad for female companionship—and does not want to be released, or else she will kill again.
NBC began its latest attempt to replace top-rated late-night comedian Jay Leno, 63, on The Tonight Show. Jimmy Fallon, 39, made his first appearance as The Tonight Show host with a lineup of superstars—including Will Smith and the band U2. Fallon’s overnight ratings were strong at 7.1 percent, but it lagged significantly behind the 9.2 Leno’s farewell show produced earlier in the month. In 2009, NBC replaced top-ranked Leno with Conan O’Brien, who flopped, and brought Leno back only nine months after O’Brien’s debut.
Chaos in Ukraine
Violent protests killed at least 25 and injured hundreds in Kiev, the Ukrainian capital, as riot police clashed with defiant citizens. The protests started in November after Ukraine President Viktor Yanukovych chose a $15 billion bailout from Russia and backed out of a trade deal with the European Union.
Matteo Renzi, the 39-year-old mayor of Florence, began forming Italy’s 65th government since World War II, touting a plan to cut spending and reduce taxes. Renzi engineered the forced resignation of former Prime Minister Enrico Letta on Feb. 14 and now hopes to revive Italy’s struggling and debt-burdened economy.