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Up First briefing: Blinken in Ukraine; ex-Proud Boys leader sentenced; new COVID data

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks during a press conference at the Beijing American Center of the US Embassy in Beijing on June 19.
Pedro Pardo
/
AFP via Getty Images
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks during a press conference at the Beijing American Center of the US Embassy in Beijing on June 19.

Good morning. You're reading the Up First newsletter. Subscribe here to get it delivered to your inbox, and listen to the Up First podcast for all the news you need to start your day.

Today's top stories

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrived in Ukraine's capital Kyiv this morning. Blinken is expected to meet with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who returned to Kyiv after meeting with front-line soldiers.

Blinken's goal is to signal U.S. support for Ukraine despite questions about the pace and cost of its counteroffensive, NPR's Brian Mann says on Up First. A State Department official told reporters that Blinken also wants to get an accurate assessment of what's happening on the ground. Critics say Ukraine spread its forces too thin, but Ukrainian officials say they're gaining ground.

  • In Cuba, the government says it's interrupted a Russian scheme that has been recruiting Cubans in Russia and on the island to fight in Ukraine. 


Former Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio has been sentenced to 22 years in prison for his role in the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. It's the longest prison sentence so far for a Jan. 6 defendant. Tarrio was convicted of seditious conspiracy in May.

  • The trial has "effectively put away the leadership of the group," says NPR's Odette Yousef. Four of Tarrio's lieutenants were sentenced last week. Despite this, Yousef says the organization is not weaker — it has more members and chapters than on Jan. 6. Independent, local chapters are prioritizing restricting LGBTQ+ rights, limiting inclusive school curricula and walking back abortion rights.


Spain's soccer federation has dismissed Jorge Vilda, the coach of the women's national team. Montse Tomé will take his place. She's the first woman to hold the role in Spain. The change comes less than two weeks after FIFA suspended federation president Luis Rubiales for forcibly kissing Jenni Hermoso after Spain's World Cup win. In a statement, the federation praised Vilda but offered no explanation about whether his dismissal was connected to Rubiales' actions.

New lab data suggests that vaccines and antibodies from previous COVID infections seem to be capable of neutralizing the new variant known as BA.2.86. This means it's unlikely the variant will cause another deadly wave of infections. The FDA is expected to approve a new booster targeting a recent omicron subvariant soon.

Deep dive

Gymnasts Shilese Jones, Simone Biles and Leanne Wong pose after placing second, first and third in the all-around competition on the final day of women's competition at the 2023 U.S. Gymnastics Championships on Sunday in San Jose, Calif.
Loren Elliot / AFP via Getty Images
/
AFP via Getty Images
Gymnasts Shilese Jones, Simone Biles and Leanne Wong pose after placing second, first and third in the all-around competition on the final day of women's competition at the 2023 U.S. Gymnastics Championships on Sunday in San Jose, Calif.

Last week, Simone Biles won a record eighth title at the U.S. Gymnastics Championships. Five other Black and Asian American women joined her to rank in the top six spots. Betty Okino and Dominique Dawes, the first African American Olympic gymnastics medalists, say U.S. gymnastics looks very different than it did in the '90s.

  • Since the '90s, most U.S. gymnastics teams at the Olympics have had at least two women of color.
  • Better equipment and coaching have led to the average age of competitors in the U.S. and abroad rising over the years.
  • The NCAA's new rules allowing college athletes to make money from their name and likeness means that they no longer have to choose between accepting endorsement deals or pursuing college scholarships. 

Life advice

/ Kaz Fantone/NPR
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Kaz Fantone/NPR

People of all ages are at risk of hearing loss, especially if they often find themselves in loud places like clubs, concerts or cities. Life Kit's illustrated guide (featuring an adorable cartoon ear!) shows you how to take care of your ears.

  • Get your hearing tested if you have symptoms like difficulty understanding certain words, muffled noises, hypersensitivity to certain sounds and tinnitus.
  • Reduce noise exposure and wear protection at loud events.
  • Keep the volume on your phone and other devices at 60% or less.
  • Avoid Q-tips — they can push earwax further into your ear canal and strip your ear's natural oils.

3 things to know before you go

/ Laura Gao for NPR
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Laura Gao for NPR

  1. Last month, NPR reported on the health benefits of brief, positive encounters with strangers. Get inspired to make someone's day brighter with stories from listeners about an encounter that lifted their spirits. 
  2. A New Hampshire woman made the ultimate thrift store find. A $4 purchase turned out to be a rare N.C. Wyeth painting, which could be worth $250,000 at a September auction.
  3. Two Chinese construction workers have been charged with destroying a cultural relic after they allegedly drove heavy machinery through the Great Wall of China, causing "irreversible damage."

This newsletter was edited by Majd Al-Waheidi.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Suzanne Nuyen