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What Kyiv looks like as Russian troops appear to reposition


Today the U.S. announced more sanctions on some Russian businesses and individuals. And Russia, in turn, has asked to be paid for its gas exports in rubles. Meanwhile, the U.S. expects to deliver all of the $800 million in military aid to Ukraine, which includes shoulder-fired weapons against tanks and aircraft. By the middle of April, the Pentagon says they are seeing some repositioning of Russian forces away from Kyiv to the north. But according to NATO intelligence, Russia is maintaining pressure on Kyiv. Well, NPR's Elissa Nadworny is there in Kyiv, and she joins us now. Hi, Elissa.


CHANG: OK, so what are you hearing on the ground about continued fighting?

NADWORNY: Well, Ukrainian forces are still fighting all over the country, even in Kherson, which Russians claim to have taken. Here in Kyiv, we've had air sirens much of the evening tonight, and there were two loud explosions near the center of the city. Officials haven't released information on what was hit yet, but multiple explosions were reported here Tuesday night and into the early hours of Wednesday. Ukrainian officials are echoing what Western intelligence has said. Major Volodymyr Fityo, a spokesperson for Ukraine's ground forces command, told us this today.


VOLODYMYR FITYO: (Non-English language spoken).

NADWORNY: He's saying there is no retreat. Certain divisions have left because they've lost their military effectiveness. We've damaged them a great deal, and others are coming in their place.

CHANG: And I understand that, Elissa, you have been out and about talking to people in Kyiv before the sirens. What did you find walking around there?

NADWORNY: So Kyiv is a city that's still mostly empty. It's estimated that half the population has left. And overwhelmingly, the people that we do find, you know, they say they don't trust Russian promises. They're anticipating this war to last a while. And yet there's also a sense that this is the new normal. You know, people are moving out of the shelters and back into their apartments, and some who left Kyiv are trickling back in. Sitting outside a coffee shop in a residential neighborhood near the city center, I find Alex Mykhailenko.

ALEX MYKHAILENKO: I'm personally not afraid.

NADWORNY: Alex came back to Kyiv a week ago.

MYKHAILENKO: It was just a feeling that I have to come back.

NADWORNY: When the war started, he fled the city, went west, volunteered. But he's come back because it's felt safer. His friends, who also fled, keep asking him if they should come back, too. It's a personal decision, he says. But he also tells them this.

MYKHAILENKO: You can hear the artillery working out on the outskirts of Kyiv, but in general, people are nervous, but they still continue to live their lives.

NADWORNY: The city is still a shadow of itself right now, he says, but things are starting to open up. All the tables outside the cafe are full. Down the street...


NADWORNY: ...City workers are moving a barricade of tires on a side street so civilians can drive through.


MYKHAILENKO: This is the sound of life coming back, you know? The municipal services are working. Dogs are outside. People are drinking coffee. The war is not about stopping the living, right? A war is about redirecting your resources to fight the invaders. But it doesn't mean that you have to stop your life.

ALINA: Mama.

NADWORNY: It's been a bit harder to adapt to this new normal for Vlada and her 2-year-old daughter Alina.

VLADA: (Non-English language spoken).

ALINA: Mama.

NADWORNY: She's worried she's not being a good parent because she made the decision to stay in Kyiv. It was a hard decision. Leaving was scary, but so is staying.

VLADA: (Non-English language spoken).

NADWORNY: She tells me they spent the first several days of the war down in the subway and then in a shelter. Now they're back in their apartment...

VLADA: (Non-English language spoken).

NADWORNY: ...Sheltering in a corridor when the air alarms go off. When little Alina hears the explosions...

VLADA: (Non-English language spoken).

NADWORNY: ...She says, boom.

VLADA: (Non-English language spoken).

NADWORNY: She thinks it's a game, Vlada says. She's too young to understand what's going on. Vlada and her husband, they don't tell Alina otherwise. They don't want to mess with her mental health. They're on their way now to a shop to get some candy for Alina. But they won't stay away from the apartment too long.

VLADA: (Non-English language spoken).

NADWORNY: Vlada says she still doesn't feel safe. But where should they go? This is their home. Elissa Nadworny, NPR News, Kyiv. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Elissa Nadworny reports on all things college for NPR, following big stories like unprecedented enrollment declines, college affordability, the student debt crisis and workforce training. During the 2020-2021 academic year, she traveled to dozens of campuses to document what it was like to reopen during the coronavirus pandemic. Her work has won several awards including a 2020 Gracie Award for a story about student parents in college, a 2018 James Beard Award for a story about the Chinese-American population in the Mississippi Delta and a 2017 Edward R. Murrow Award for excellence in innovation.

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