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Your Tuesday Briefing: Is Ukraine’s Counteroffensive Here?

Ukraine intensified attacks on Russian positions along many sections of the front line yesterday. U.S. officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the surge in attacks could indicate that Ukraine had begun an expected counteroffensive, which could be its best shot at regaining territory and coming to any peace negotiations with a strong hand.

The officials based their assessment in part on information from military satellites, which detected an uptick in action from Ukrainian positions. Ukraine has long said it would make no formal announcement about the start of its counteroffensive.

Russia also said that a major operation had begun at five locations along the front in one eastern region, Donetsk, but that it had repelled them. Bloggers affiliated with the Russian military reported that Ukraine’s forces had advanced in some areas and had taken a village in Donetsk, but the claims could not be corroborated.

U.S. military analysts said they believed that Ukrainian units were making an initial push to determine the positions and strength of Russia’s forces, a traditional tactic that Americans had been training Ukrainian forces to use.

Strategy: Attacks were reported to take place to the east of where analysts had expected the counteroffensive to begin. But even starting in that area would allow Ukraine to keep the same goal: to head south toward the Sea of Azov and cut off the “land bridge” connecting Crimea to Russia.

The stakes: If the counteroffensive is successful, Kyiv could secure longer-term commitments of military aid from the West. Victories also could strengthen President Volodymyr Zelensky’s hand in any peace talks with Russia. Failure or a lack of major progress could complicate Ukraine’s path forward and lead some Western officials to question the war strategy.

Rail lines reopened at the Bahanaga Bazar rail station, where at least 275 people were killed in a catastrophic crash on Friday. The resumption of service could ease disruptions and help more families reach the area and identify their loved ones. There are still more than 100 unclaimed bodies.

Questions continue to swirl about who was responsible for the three-way accident. (These graphics show how the disaster unfolded.) Officials are focused on an electronic signal’s malfunctioning, but they have not ruled out sabotage. They are also looking into whether negligence played a role, but they have not identified any suspects.

Reaction: Opposition politicians called for the resignation of the railway minister and accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government of not doing enough to ensure rail safety. 

Modi’s focus: India spent almost $30 billion on the rail system during the past fiscal year, more than 15 percent than it did the year before. But most of Modi’s initiatives have been aimed at improving speed and comfort — not basic safety. The amount spent on track maintenance and other safety measures has been falling.

Afghan officials believe that 89 schoolgirls and their teachers were deliberately poisoned at two schools for girls. Some were hospitalized with respiratory and neurological symptoms, and officials said that security and intelligence forces were still searching for the perpetrators.

On Saturday, 63 students and staff members in the northern Sar-i-Pul Province became sick shortly after arriving at school, officials and parents said. The next day, 26 more students and staff members at a nearby school reported similar symptoms.

The cases come at a precarious time for Afghan women and girls. Restrictions on education have become a flashpoint since the Taliban seized power in 2021. They are emblematic of the government’s policies toward women, which have effectively erased them from public life. The Taliban has barred girls from attending school above sixth grade; most of these students were 6 to 12 years old.

History: The U.N. investigated similar cases between 2012 and 2016 and found no trace of chemical gas or poison, The Wall Street Journal reported. The U.N. concluded that the symptoms were the result of mass psychogenic illness, a form of social panic.

In Iran: Earlier this year, hundreds of schoolgirls were hospitalized after what officials said could have been deliberate attempts to stop them from attending school. The Interior Minister blamed stress and anxiety for some of their symptoms.

For more: On “The Daily,” three Afghan women talk about how life changed under the Taliban.

A tiny pop-up market in Los Angeles is trying to become a hub for the city’s Filipino community. Its creators imagine it as an intergenerational space where new Filipino businesses can experiment, connect with their audience and expand.

Prince Harry’s bitter, yearslong feud with Britain’s tabloids is coming to a head this week. Today, he is set to testify in a London courtroom against the Mirror newspaper group, which he says hacked his phone more than a decade ago. He has filed two other suits against Britain’s tabloid publishers related to illicit information gathering.

Harry’s lawyers say that the Mirror used private investigators to illegally obtain information about him, in part by intercepting voice mail messages. The publisher apologized and admitted to unlawfully getting information on Harry in one instance, but denies the hacking charges.

The testimony is putting the House of Windsor on edge. Harry will be the first senior member of the royal family to be cross-examined in a legal case since the 19th century. (Usually, the family prefers to settle legal claims.) In court, Harry could face questions about his personal life, or his relationships with other royals.

Background: The case is about more than just money. Harry has said he holds the tabloids responsible for the death of his mother, Diana, Princess of Wales, in a car crash in 1997. In his memoir, he also described the trauma that intrusive tabloid coverage has caused him.

Practice grilling basics with these five recipes.

In “Past Lives,” a wistful what-if story, two childhood friends from Seoul pass through each other’s lives across decades and continents.

In “August Blue,” a new novel by Deborah Levy, a pianist refashions herself amid personal and global crises.

How to get rid of your old electronics.

Play the Mini Crossword, and a clue: Mushrooms and such (five letters).

Here are the Wordle and the Spelling Bee. You can find all our puzzles here.

That’s it for today’s briefing. See you next time. — Amelia

P.S. Fictional cocktails, a puppy’s bowel movements: We asked readers to show us the contents of their Notes apps.

Thanks for your feedback. You can always reach us at [email protected].

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