Crisis in Ukraine
July 7, 2014
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Even a few weeks ago, Ukraine seemed to be inexorably losing control of the eastern part of its territory to pro-Russia militants who were seizing cities big and small. By Sunday, Ukraine had ousted the rebels from Slovyansk and other towns, recaptured a key border crossing into Russia, and was preparing to battle for control of Donetsk, a regional capital of a million people and the center of the pro-Moscow forces' self-proclaimed republic.

The rebels, who call their convergence on Donetsk a tactical retreat, also seem to be treating this as a final showdown. The string of victories by Ukraine's troops started early last week, when President Petro Poroshenko called off a cease-fire.

The roots of Ukraine's improbable turnaround lie deeper, however: a shakeup in the military chain of command, an influx of financial aid from the U.S. and Ukrainian citizens, some military disengagement from Moscow, and what The New York Times' David M. Herszenhorn describes as "a crucial psychological shift: Soldiers surmounted a reluctance to open fire on their own countrymen, a serious issue after riot police officers killed about 100 protesters last winter during civil unrest centered on Maidan, the main square in Kiev."

Ukraine's ragtag military, plus allied militias, also adapted to urban warfare and benefited from what amounts to on-the-job training. "The military themselves learned to fight," Mykola Sungurovskyi, military scholar at Kiev think-tank Razumkov Center, tells The New York Times. The siege of Donetsk will be a big test of how far they've come.

March Madness
7:47 a.m. ET
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The Kentucky Wildcats are back in the Final Four for a second straight year after holding off Notre Dame's upset bid on Saturday.

The undefeated Wildcats did not miss a shot in the final 12 minutes of the game, and then watched as a potential game-winning desperation three sailed over the rim. They now sit just two games away from a perfect season.

Also Saturday, the Wisconsin Badgers punched their ticket to the Final Four with a convincing win over Arizona. On Sunday, Michigan State and Louisville will meet and Duke will take on Gonzaga to determine the final two teams in the national semifinal round.

Germanwings Crash
March 28, 2015
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A spokesman for Lufthansa, Germanwings' parent company, told NBC News on Saturday that the airline will distribute initial payments to families of up to $54,450 per victim in the tragic Tuesday crash of Flight 9525.

"This is to offer the families immediate support to help them in this major change in life," Boris Ogursky said. "They shouldn't have to face a financial problem, and they need not worry about paying it back."

Family members have been flying into France from more than a dozen countries; Lufthansa is also covering transportation and living accommodations for those affected. German investigators believe co-pilot Andreas Lubitz intentionally crashed the Germanwings plane into the French Alps on Tuesday, killing all 150 people on board. He appears to have hidden the fact that he had been receiving psychiatric treatment for more than a year from the airline; investigators searching his home found a ripped-up doctor's note authorizing Lubitz to take time off from work due to an illness.

Foreign affairs
March 28, 2015
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Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi directly blamed the Islamic Republic on Saturday for his country's current chaos, calling the Shiite rebels who have forced him to flee Yemen "puppets of Iran," The Associated Press reports

"You have destroyed Yemen with your political adolescence and by manufacturing domestic and regional crises," Hadi said, speaking directly to the rebels and their backers.

Hadi fled the country and made his way to Saudi Arabia earlier this week, after the rebels, known as Houthis, pushed farther toward the southern Yemen city of Aden, where he had been staying. An Arab summit on Saturday addressed the Houthi advances, with one Gulf diplomat warning that Saudi-led airstrikes in Yemen could continue for months. And while other leaders did not mention Iran by name, they criticized the Shiite power indirectly, which they claim is supporting the Houthi rebels in their advances on the Sunni nation.

Really? Really.
March 28, 2015
Facebook.com/Get Hard

It's a good thing Michigan State's men's basketball team pulled off a 62-58 win over Oklahoma on Friday night, or Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart might have been hearing from Tom Izzo.

The Spartans' coach joked with MLive.com that the team's slow start in the Sweet 16 game was probably due to his allowing the players to go see a movie earlier in the afternoon. And Izzo picked Get Hard, because, "I didn't want anything too deep," that might throw the team off mentally.

"This wasn't too deep," he added.

The No. 7 Spartans survived to take on Louisville Sunday, so a suggestion for Izzo if he needs another movie to keep his team occupied before warmups: Pick something else. Literally, anything else. 

hmmm
March 28, 2015
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Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) may be readying an official start to his bid for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, Reuters reports.

The Tampa Bay Times reported on Friday that Rubio has reserved the Freedom Tower, in downtown Miami, for an "undisclosed event" on April 13. While Rubio staffers declined to comment on the reservation, the Tampa paper notes that the Freedom Tower was used to assist Cuban refugees who fled after Fidel Castro took over the country in 1959; and that Rubio could consider the Miami landmark to be "an ideal, postcard setting to kick off a presidential campaign promoting the promise and greatness of America by the son of Cuban immigrants."

Ebola
March 28, 2015
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Health officials got some rare good news in the fight against Ebola this week, thanks to new research published on Thursday in the journal Science. Virologists from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases found that the current outbreak has not given rise to an even more virulent and contagious form of the virus, despite "extensive and prolonged human-to-human transmission," the researchers note.

The Los Angeles Times reports that earlier research suggested the virus was mutating at nearly double the rate as in past outbreaks; if that were the case, it could evolve past experimental tests and vaccines in progress. But researchers genetically sequenced samples of Ebola taken from patients in October and November of 2014, and found that the virus had not significantly mutated.

"Whereas from a public health perspective, the current Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa continues to be an extremely pressing emergency, it is doubtful that either virulence or transmissibility has increased," the researchers added.

The Ebola outbreak in West Africa has killed more than 10,000 people and infected another 24,907, according to the World Health Organization.

Live Long and Prosper
March 28, 2015
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Saying he wanted to create "a tribute to my dad and Spock," Adam Nimoy told Variety on Friday that he plans to produce and direct a documentary about the iconic Star Trek character, played by his father Leonard Nimoy.

The elder Nimoy died in February at the age of 83; he had been suffering for nearly a year from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. But Adam Nimoy said he and his father had discussed the documentary, which will be entitled For the Love of Spock, at length.

The project will reportedly highlight the 50th anniversary of Star Trek, which premiered on Sept. 8, 1966. Zachary Quinto, who has played Spock in two recent film takes on the franchise, will narrate, and William Shatner, who played James T. Kirk in the original series, plans to appear in the documentary.

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