Big Zuu, a TV cook and rapper, has discovered how a simple hub to distribute surplus food has grown into a national movement bringing communities together. He spent a morning at the Afghanistan and Central Asian Association which supports refugees and asylum-seekers. It is one of many places benefiting from a community fridge network called Hubbub. The Co-op and local businesses give surplus food that would otherwise be thrown away. People come and take free food home, watch demonstrations on how to use spices, berries, etc, receive English lessons, professional support and guidance, and even join a community sports club. 250 new venues funded by Co-op and Hubbub are up and running; they plan for at least 500, which would save 34 million meals from going to waste annually. Zuu said when people have a base to come to, they become involved in each other’s lives and help each other.

Officials from Russia and the United States have been holding security talks in Geneva, in a week of diplomatic activity to defuse tensions over Ukraine. Russian deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov and his delegation have begun face-to-face discussions with Wendy Sherman, the US deputy secretary of state, and her team. Ms Sherman is one of the world's most powerful diplomats, nicknamed the Silver Fox because of her snowy white mane and canny deal-making style. Pray that their meetings will kickstart dialogue between Moscow and Washington, whose relations are at a low point over Russia’s military buildup near Ukraine. The negotiations have been particularly gruelling, say analysts, and Ms Sherman will need all the diplomatic tricks she can muster to avoid a major war in Europe. Sergei Ryabkov brings a list of demands the US officials must agree to, including not expanding NATO forces eastward or allowing Ukraine to join NATO. See also the next article and

Lithuania’s foreign minister Gabriel Landsbergis has warned that reducing NATO troop numbers in the region could worsen the security situation. Prompted by fears of a Russian invasion sparked by 100,000 troops near the Ukrainian border, he said the EU needed to be ‘more involved’ and offer solutions to the crisis. He also called on the EU to review its sanctions against Russia and Belarus to close loopholes and make sure they still had teeth. Lithuania was in ‘constant contact’ with the US during its talks with Russia, and the US had offered a high level of transparency over the negotiations, which did not involve the EU. There is speculation that the US could reduce troops in return for a similar drop in Russian military numbers on the Ukraine border. But Mr Landsbergis warned against any moves to reduce NATO troop numbers in the region. ‘There is this sense of rebuilding the Soviet Union 2.0,’ he said, pointing to Russian troops in Georgia, parts of Ukraine, Moldova, Kazakhstan and Belarus.

Tennis player Novak Djokovic wears a wooden cross and is known for praying during his matches. He received a visa to visit Australia on 18 November and arrived in Melbourne on 5 January with a Covid exemption approved by Tennis Australia's chief medical officer and a Victorian government independent expert panel. Novak belongs to the Serbian Orthodox church and on 7 January (the Orthodox Christmas Day) he was held in detention for an invalid visa while lawyers fought for his freedom. Three days later a judge ruled he could remain in Australia. Djokovic wants to play in the Australian Open, which begins on 17 January: if he won he would become the most successful men's player in history. However, Australia's immigration minister insists his recent Covid infection does not exempt him from vaccine requirements and could still deport him. He admitted that there were mistakes on his immigration forms and that he had met a journalist after testing positive for Covid.

Throughout the Holy Land, Christians are targeted with frequent attacks by fringe radical groups. Since 2012 priests and clergy have been physically and verbally assaulted and Christian churches and holy sites regularly vandalised and desecrated. There has been ongoing intimidation of Christians who simply seek to worship freely and go about their daily lives. These tactics are being used in a systematic attempt to drive the Christian community out of Jerusalem and other parts of the Holy Land. Russel Rook, director of the Protecting Holy Land Christians campaign, reported Christians being spat at as they walked into a church. For priests, it is having a rock thrown at them and their church vandalised or firebombed. These dramatic, terrible things have caused the Christian population in the Holy Land to drop from 12% at the turn of the century to just 1% today. Persecution forces many to seek refuge elsewhere in the world. See

Buddhist nationalism is strong in Myanmar, and Buddhists continue to persecute the 4.4 million Christians. Christian converts are persecuted by families and communities for ‘betraying’ the Buddhist system. Communities aiming to stay ‘Buddhist only’ make life for Christian families impossible by not allowing them to use community resources such as water. Myanmar is also the scene of the longest civil war in the world, and believers are vulnerable to persecution by insurgent groups and the army. The Covid pandemic has brought added challenges, since many Christians are deliberately overlooked in the distribution of government aid. Also on Christmas Day the charred bodies of at least 35 civilians were found in a Christian village; they had apparently been shot by the army the day before and then burned. At least 23 church buildings and over 350 civilian homes were burned or destroyed in Chin state between August and December.

Authorities are cracking down hard to make China Covid-free ahead of the Winter Olympics. In a Maoist-style shaming stunt, four violators of Covid rules were paraded through Jingxi city wearing hazmat suits, with placards showing their names and photographs round their necks and surrounded by armed police in riot gear. At Christmas, China imposed a lockdown on Xi'an city (population 13 million) and Yuzhou city (1.2 million inhabitants) after finding three cases of Covid. Residents cannot leave home, even to buy food. Government workers have been distributing aid, but the distribution is patchy, resulting in many desperate stories leaking onto social media of residents near to starvation, bartering mobile phones for food. Some people are living on one egg or one bowl of porridge a day. 'I'm about to be starved to death,' was one message. Recently authorities turfed a thousand people out of their homes at midnight and carted them off to grim quarantine facilities. See

The start of a harsh winter is accelerating Afghanistan’s humanitarian crisis. Since the Taliban’s seizure of power, and international sanctions, the economy has gone into freefall. The collapse of the previous government and the withdrawal of Western support have led to soaring unemployment. Few can afford to feed their families or heat their homes. One million children are at risk from severe malnourishment. The UN has now issued an urgent call for aid for the country, stating that 22 million people inside Afghanistan and a further 5.7 million displaced Afghans in neighbouring countries need vital relief this year. ‘A full-blown humanitarian catastrophe looms. My message is urgent: don't shut the door on the people of Afghanistan,’ said UN aid chief Martin Griffiths. ‘Help us scale up and stave off wide-spread hunger, disease, malnutrition, and ultimately death.’

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