On Wednesday, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko's office announced that Poroshenko and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, had spoken by phone, and "the result of the conversation was agreement on a permanent cease-fire in the Donbass," the term used for Ukraine's eastern regions. "An agreement was reached about mutual vision of steps that will promote peace." Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that in the conversation, Poroshenko and Putin had discovered that their views on how to stop the bloodshed in the region "coincide to a considerable degree."
Poroshenko's office didn't disclose any details of the peace plan, or explain how Putin could agree to end a battle he insists he isn't fighting. There was also no immediate reaction from the pro-Russia separatists fighting Ukrainian forces in eastern Ukraine. The separatists didn't abide by Poroshenko's last cease-fire.
The agreement was announced as President Obama landed in Estonia to demonstrate NATO's commitment to keep Moscow from attacking member states near Russia (Ukraine isn't a member of NATO), and a day before NATO meets to discuss how to handle Russia's aggression. Timothy Ash, an analysts at Standard Bank in London, is skeptical about the timing:
I guess for the Ukrainian military this gives them a chance to regroup after recent military setbacks, and bide time to see what NATO and the EU delivers over the next few days in terms of deterrents to Russia for further intervention. In the past we have seen Moscow looking to talk/sending peace signals just before important EU/G7/NATO meetings, and presumably to weaken momentum toward sanctions/countermeasures. Subsequently we then saw further intervention and escalation. [Ash, via the Kyiv Post]
Obama and other NATO nation leaders meet Thursday and Friday in Wales.
UPDATE: Poroshenko's office has retracted the statement about a "permanent cease-fire," saying the original language oversold the agreement between Putin and Poroshenko. Poroshenko's spokesman promised a revised statement later Wednesday. The updated stance from Kiev jibes better with Russia's version, delivered via RIA Novosti by Putin spokesman Peskov. "Putin and Poroshenko did indeed discuss steps which could facilitate a cease-fire between the militias and the Ukrainian military," he said. "Russia cannot physically agree on a cease-fire, as it is not a side in the conflict."
This year's Passover is the last for the Streit's matzo factory on Manhattan's Lower East Side, and Streit's is the last company making the traditional Jewish Passover bread in the rapidly gentrifying, formerly Jewish neighborhood. Streit's has been in the Lower East Side since World War I, and at its current location — occupying four former tenement buildings — since 1925.
Strait's is America's last large family-owned matzo manufacturer — its main competitor is Manischewitz — and it isn't closing shop, but rather moving to a more modern facility somewhere else in the New York City area. Already selling some 5 million pounds of matzo a year, for $20 million in sales, the company is actually finding it hard to keep up with growing demand.
Still, this is a loss for the neighborhood, says historian Annie Polland at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum. "For decades, immigrant Jews and their descendants have made 'pilgrimages' back to the Lower East Side — the Jewish Plymouth Rock — to reconnect with their history, and of course, delight in the shopping and eating that gives the neighborhood its flavor," she tells The Associated Press. "With the Streit's closure, you have a significant chapter of Jewish Lower East Side history closing." Watch AP's video report on Streit's below. —Peter Weber
On Sunday night, No. 1 seed Duke beat No. 2 Gonzaga, 66-52, sending the Blue Devils on to the men's Final Four semifinals in Indianapolis. In their 16th Final Four appearance — the 12th with Coach Mike Krzyzewski — Duke will face Michigan State, which beat Louisville in an exciting overtime upset. The seventh-seeded Spartans topped the fourth-seeded Louisville Cardinals, 76-70. The Gonzaga Zags haven't made it to the Final Four in 17 straight NCAA tournament appearances. With 12 Final Four contests, Duke's Coach K will tie UCLA's John Wooden for most appearances by a head coach.
On Sunday, New York City fire fighters pulled two bodies from the wreckage of the three buildings in Manhattan's East Village that collapsed after an explosion on Thursday. The two bodies have been identified as Nicholas Figueroa, 23, and Moises Ismael Locón Yac, 27, the only two people reported missing. Figueroa was on a lunch date at Sushi Park, a restaurant in the building at the center of the explosion, and Yac, a Guatemalan immigrant, was a busboy at the restaurant.
Officials are still investigating the cause of the explosion, but early indications point to unsafe tampering with a gas line in Sushi Park's building at 121 Second Ave. Watch an emotional New York Fire Commissioner Daniel A. Nigro announce the discoveries in the Associated Press video below. —Peter Weber
John Oliver does not like pranks, or any day encouraging them. "April Fools' Day is to comedy as St. Patrick's Day is to Irish culture," he said in this Last Week Tonight video posted Sunday night: "That is to say, it is a very mockery of the concept that usually ends in a fist fight." Pranks make people sad, he added, and "anyone who claims to be excited about April Fools' Day is probably a sociopath, because what they're really saying is, 'I cannot wait to hurt the people close to me.'" If you agree with Oliver at the end of his well-thought-out spiel, you can take his No-Prank Pledge. And, as this is HBO, some of the language is mildly NSFW. —Peter Weber
If President Obama had The Rock's build, he would have a much easier time getting Republicans to do what he wants. Or, at least, he would have a much easier time tossing them out windows and ripping off their limbs when they made him angry, as was the case in this Saturday Night Live sketch featuring Dwayne Johnson as "The Rock Obama."
"Don't be alarmed," Johnson says after some maddening Republican subversion causes him to hulk out and rip through his suit. "The Rock Obama much like Barack Obama, only larger and more violent." —Jon Terbush
Former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina on Sunday crept closer to a White House bid, saying in an interview with Fox News there is a "higher than 90 percent" chance she will run.
"As other potential candidates are doing, we need to make sure we have the right team in place, that we have the right support," she said, adding that an announcement would likely come in late April or early May.
A political neophyte, Fiorina ran for Senate in California in 2010 but lost by a 10-point margin. A CNN poll earlier this month found her with less than 1 percent of the vote in a hypothetical GOP primary. —Jon Terbush
Former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) on Sunday took a none-too-subtle swipe at Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush, the presumptive frontrunners for their parties' 2016 nominations.
"The presidency of the United States is not some crown to be passed between two families," O'Malley, himself a prospective White House candidate, said on ABC's This Week. "It is an awesome and sacred trust to be earned and exercised on behalf of the American people." —Jon Terbush