Russia has finalized its annexation of four Ukrainian territories amid losses to Ukrainian forces. The rising death toll of Lee County, Florida, after Hurricane Ian calls into question of officials' response to the storm. It's Fat Bear Week. Keep reading to take a look at the bears contending to be the chonkiest.
Keep scrolling for Wednesday's top headlines.
🌅 Up first: Free Crocs are up for grabs this week to celebrate "Croctober." Here's how you can snag a pair.
Putin signs laws annexing 4 Ukrainian regions
Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed laws absorbing four Ukrainian regions into Russia, a move that finalizes the annexation carried out in defiance of international law. Earlier this week, both houses of the Russian parliament ratified treaties making the Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions part of Russia. The formalities followed Kremlin-orchestrated "referendums" in the four regions that Ukraine and the West have rejected as a sham. Ukraine's counteroffensive is driving back Russian forces; More than 450 settlements in the Kharkiv region have been liberated in the past month, Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said. Read more
Did officials in Lee County, Florida do enough?
As the death toll in Florida from Hurricane Ian climbed to 71 Tuesday, many continued to question whether lives could have been saved if Lee County officials had moved more quickly to evacuate barrier islands and other low-lying areas devastated by the storm. In Lee County – which includes Fort Myers and where Ian made landfall near Cayo Costa last Wednesday afternoon – officials waited until 7 a.m. last Tuesday to order people to leave vulnerable coastal areas, while other southwest counties ordered evacuations last Monday. Of the confirmed deaths, 45 were in Lee County. Read more
This Florida woman survived her ''biggest mistake'' in Hurricane Ian. Why experts say many others didn't.
The confirmed death count is certain to grown as rescue and recovery efforts continue. Here are the last moments of a few of Ian's victims.
''A terrible cycle'': Hurricane Fiona, other natural disasters expose mental health crisis in Puerto Rico.
More news to know now
🚀 A South Korea missile drill in coordination with the US was a response to a successful North Korea launch. But the reactionary drill went wrong.
🔔 Traveling internationally soon? The State Department issued 81 new Travel Advisories for Italy, France, Belize and other countries.
💧 A Michigan judge dismissed charges against 7 former officials for their role in the Flint water scandal.
🎓 Biden's student loan debt forgiveness was hit with a lawsuit over ''racial motive.''
🔦 A failure in Bangladesh's national power grid plunged much of the country into a blackout.
🎧 On today's 5 Things podcast, investigative reporter Doug Caruso looks at how race affects social media efforts to find missing kids. You can listen to the podcast every day on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or on your smart speaker.
🌤 What's the weather up to in your neck of the woods? Check your local forecast here.
Oath Keepers leader called Biden 'illegitimate usurper'
Audio recordings and messages shown Tuesday during the trial of Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes and other members of the right-wing extremist militia show the group began planning for a violent confrontation in Washington just days after Joe Biden was named the president-elect. The 2020 presidential election was called in Biden's favor on Nov. 7, 2020. That same day, Rhodes called Biden an "illegitimate usurper" and issued a call to action via the encrypted messaging app Signal. The defendants face numerous crimes in connection to the events of that day, including the rare charge of seditious conspiracy. Read more
What exactly was Roger Stone's role in Capitol riot? The next Jan. 6 hearing could tell us.
Biden keeping abortion front and center as midterms approach
Just weeks before the midterm elections, President Joe Biden is doubling down on his administration's efforts to protect abortion access. He held a meeting Tuesday of the Cabinet-level task force he assembled to coordinate a federal response to the reversal of Roe v. Wade. During the conversation, he announced new guidance for universities and funding steps for family planning. Read more
One thing to know: One-hundred days post-Roe, most abortions are banned in at least 14 states and others are weighing severe restrictions. On Tuesday, as part of his pitch to vote for Democrats, Biden reminded Americans that only Congress can restore access to abortion nationally.
Abortion mobilizes voters: Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake just made a pivot on abortion. (Somebody must be reading the polls).
GOP candidate Herschel Walker denied he paid for an abortion. What does that mean for his Georgia Senate race?
National confusion over abortion laws reigns: Biden met with doctors from around the country who voiced fears over prosecution for life-saving choices.
Leaving it to the states catalyzes local decisions: Take the Des Moines, Iowa, City Council, whose members decided abortion should be left up to the state and federal governments, not the city.
Candidates galvanize abortion support: Democrat Katie Darling's viral campaign video featured her delivering her son while expressing alarm about Louisiana's new abortion ban.
Just for subscribers:
👁 Consumer watchdogs raise alarms as more consumers rely on high-interest ''rent-a-bank'' loans.
🚫 Hundreds of 2020 election deniers are running for office nationwide this year. They pose a ''major threat'' to U.S. democracy.
📈 Fed rate hikes: What will and won't become more affordable?
🔻 Florida asks student athletes about their periods. Here's why some find this ''shocking'' post-Roe.
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Supreme Court delves into Alabama brawl over race, redistricting and Voting Rights Act
The Supreme Court wrestled Tuesday with how far states must go to ensure congressional districts don't discriminate against minority voters in a case that voting rights advocates fear will lead to a further weakening of the Voting Rights Act. At issue is Alabama's recently redrawn congressional map, which includes one district out of seven with a majority of Black voters – even though African Americans make up 27% of the state's population. The case could have sweeping implications for how states across the country take account of race as they draw congressional districts. Read more
📷 Photo of the day: Breathtaking images honored in the 2022 Nature Conservancy Photo Contest 📷
Diverse landscapes, wildlife and more scenes from around the world are featured in the winning images of the Nature Conservancy Photo Contest 2022. This year's Grand Prize went to photographer Li Ping of China, who captured a drone's eye view of a highway in Tibet, bordered on each side by gullies extending outward in the shape of a tree. Check out more of the jaw-dropping photos here.
One more thing
📚 ''I swallowed abuse for so long'': Constance Wu won't be silenced about ''Fresh Off the Boat.''
🎶 Savor Loretta Lynn's career with these essential songs, from ''Coal Miner's Daughter'' to ''The Pill.''
🎬 ''Amsterdam'' review: Christian Bale and Margot Robbie take an all-star cast to buoyant ''Amsterdam.''
🧪 Three scientists were awarded the Nobel Prize in physics for ''pioneering quantum information science.''
😲 Are you stressed? Your dog can probably smell it, according to a new study.
🐻 2022 Fat Bear Week is here. See which bears will compete to be named the chonkiest.
Nicole Fallert is a newsletter writer at USA TODAY. Want to send Nicole a note, shoot her an email at NFallert@usatoday.com or follow along with her musings on Twitter. Sign up for the email here. Support journalism like this by subscribing to USA TODAY here.
Contributing: The Associated Press
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Ukraine, Herschel Walker, Oath Keepers, SCOTUS, Fat Bear Week: Daily Briefing