War in Ukraine live updates: Zelenskyy makes an impassioned plea to Congress for more help

Published March 16, 2022 at 7:30 AM EDT
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky virtually addresses the Congress on Wednesday.
Sarah Silbiger
POOL/AFP via Getty Images
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky virtually addresses the Congress on Wednesday.

Ukraine's capital was hit with more Russian airstrikes overnight. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy made a direct appeal for more military aid as he addressed U.S. House and Senate members this morning. Also, Secretary of State Antony Blinken says an "irreversible" Russian withdrawal from Ukraine must be in place before sanctions are lifted.

Here's what we're following today:

The standard for lifting sanctions: Blinken tells Morning Edition that merely halting the invasion of Ukraine may not be enough for Russia to gain relief from Western economic sanctions.

The damages in Ukraine: The country has suffered half a trillion dollars' worth of damage so far since Russia invaded on Feb. 24.

Russian TV protester: The Russian journalist who held up an anti-war sign on the Russian evening news says she fears for her safety but is staying put.

Here's a breakdown of the weapons and equipment the U.S. is sending Ukraine

Posted March 16, 2022 at 2:23 PM EDT

The White House shared a detailed list breaking down the weapons and equipment it is sending to aid Ukraine in the war against Russia.

The weapons include 800 Stinger anti-aircraft systems and 2,000 Javelin missiles.

The White House's list of weapons include:

  • 1,000 light anti-armor weapons, and 6,000 AT-4 anti-armor systems
  • 100 Tactical Unmanned Aerial Systems
  • 100 grenade launchers, 5,000 rifles, 1,000 pistols, 400 machine guns, and 400 shotguns
  • More than 20 million rounds of small arms ammunition and grenade launcher and mortar rounds
  • 25,000 sets of body armor and 25,000 helmets

The White House also said it would help Ukraine acquire longer-range systems and munitions.

Outspoken Russian prima ballerina announces she will leave Bolshoi Ballet and join Dutch National Ballet

Posted March 16, 2022 at 1:29 PM EDT
Olga Smirnova performs in the "Casse-Noisette et Compagnie" in Monaco in December 2015. Smirnova has been outspoken in her opposition to Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
Valery Hache
AFP via Getty Images
Olga Smirnova performs in the "Casse-Noisette et Compagnie" in Monaco in December 2015. Smirnova has been outspoken in her opposition to Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Russian prima ballerina Olga Smirnova announced on Wednesday that she is leaving the world-renowned Bolshoi Ballet and joining the Dutch National Ballet.

Smirnova has spoken out against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, noting that her grandfather is Ukrainian and she is a quarter Ukrainian.

“I have to be honest and say that I am against war with all the fibers of my soul,” Smirnova said on her Telegram channel earlier this month. “In a modern and enlightened world, I expect civilized societies to resolve political matters only through peaceful negotiations.”

In a statement emailed to NPR, the Dutch National Ballet said Smirnova has multiple reasons for joining.

“Smirnova was outspoken in her recent denouncement of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which is making it untenable for her to work in her native country,” the statement said. “What’s more, Russia’s ties with the artistic community – which are so essential to the ballet world – have been substantially cut due to the conflict in Ukraine.”

Ted Brandsen, the director of the Dutch National Ballet, said he is glad to have Smirnova join the company.

“It is a privilege to have her dance with our company in the Netherlands — even if the circumstances that drove this move are incredibly sad,” Brandsen said in a statement. “Nevertheless, as a company we are pleased to have such an inspiring dancer join us at Dutch National Ballet."

In her post to Telegram, Smirnova said Russians “cannot remain indifferent to this global catastrophe.”

“I never thought I would be ashamed of Russia, I have always been proud of talented Russian people, of our cultural and athletic achievements,” she said. “But now I feel that a line has been drawn that separates the before and the after. It hurts that people are dying, that people are losing the roofs over their heads or are forced to abandon their homes.”

Smirnova is not the only dancer leaving Russia as a result of the war in Ukraine. Victor Caixeta, a soloist of the Mariinsky Ballet in St. Petersburg who was born and raised in Brazil, also announced he was joining the Dutch National Ballet.

“The current circumstances have meant I’ve had to make the hard decision of leaving Russia – the place I’ve called home for almost five years, as well as the theatre that has given me such an amazing start to my professional career,” Caixeta said. “I look forward to joining Dutch National Ballet and to continue developing as an artist and a person.”

Just In

President Biden approves $800 million more in security assistance to Ukraine

Posted March 16, 2022 at 1:27 PM EDT
President Biden sits at a desk signing a piece of paper, with two men and a woman behind him.
Alex Wong/Getty Images
Getty Images North America
President Joe Biden signs legislative action to provide security aid and support to Ukraine as Secretary of State Antony Blinken (L), Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley look on, during an event near the White House on Wednesday.

President Biden approved $800 million more in security assistance to Ukraine on Wednesday, and vowed that more weapons would come as the United States sources more equipment.

The package includes 800 anti-aircraft systems, 9,000 shoulder-mounted anti-armor missile systems to destroy tanks, 7,000 small arms including guns and grenade launchers, and 20 million rounds of ammunition, Biden said. He said drones were also included in the package, but he did not provide details.

“I want to be honest with you: this could be a long and difficult battle,” Biden said.“We’re going to continue to have their backs as they fight for their freedom, their democracy, their very survival.”

Biden thanked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy for his “passionate message” to Congress on Wednesday morning and spoke about the “appalling devastation” inflicted on Ukraine, including reports of doctors and patients being held hostage in Mariopol.

“These are atrocities,” Biden said. “It’s an outrage to the world.”

Congressional reaction

Zelenskyy’s speech fires up U.S. lawmakers to act on Ukraine

Posted March 16, 2022 at 1:10 PM EDT
Members of the U.S. Congress give Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy a standing ovation
Sarah Silbiger
Pool/Getty Images
Members of the U.S. Congress applaud as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy delivers a virtual address at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday.

Lawmakers from both parties rallied around Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's emotional appeal in a video address from his country’s Capitol city of Kiiv as it continues to endure attack from the Russian army.

“In the darkest time for our country, for the whole of Europe I call on you to do more,” Zelenskyy said, adding that new sanctions are needed every week “until the Russian military machine stops.”

Most members of Congress have been reluctant to back the central appeal in Zelenskyy’s address: a no-fly zone over Ukraine. Anticipating that opposition, Zelenskyy pressed for the U.S. to send planes the Ukrainian military can fly, additional anti-missile systems and other defensive equipment to support the military.

Colorado Democratic Rep. Jason Crow called Zelenskyy “one of the great wartime leaders” and said “we need to step up and do more.”

While Crow opposes the no-fly zone, he said the United States should give the Ukrainian military Russian MiiG planes, which could “help tip the scales.”

“Ukrainians have no incentive to ask for things they can’t use,” Crow said.

Wyoming Republican Rep. Liz Cheney, meanwhile, said the U.S. should send more stinger missiles and Javelins, as well as Patriot missiles, and consider a no-fly zone for humanitarian purposes. She also said the United States should move more quickly to sanction the top Russian oligarchs that are still in President Vladimir Putin’s cabinet.

“Americans need to lead and not follow our European partners,” Cheney said.

The top Senate Republican echoed the need to speed up the U.S. response.

"My reaction to it is our own president needs to step up his game. We are not doing nearly enough quickly enough to help the Ukrainians, " Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said after the speech. “President Biden needs to step up his game, right now, before it's late.”

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Greg Meeks, a Democrat, and the top Republican on the panel, Mike McCaul, stressed that there was strong bipartisan support for speeding up efforts to transfer weapons and to dial up sanctions alongside U.S. allies.

During the speech, Zelenskky played a graphic video that depicted the brutal impact of the war, with images of buildings under rocket fire and civilians being killed.

Meeks said when he and others recently visited the border between Poland and Ukraine, some broke down in tears.

“There’s no way you could look at the video and not feel it,” Meeks said.

McCaul said many in the room were moved to tears and the video was “extremely effective.”

“It looked like Nazi Germany to me,” he said.

McCaul said there is a need to start talking about “red lines” about Russian actions and consider what the appropriate response is, saying the use of chemical weapons could be next — “are we going to sit back and watch that?”

While lawmakers don’t want to escalate the conflict and have the U.S. get drawn into a wider conflict, McCaul said he doesn’t know “how long the patience is going to last here.”

Crow, who served in Iraq and Afghanistan said about the video, “I think it is useful for the American people, I think it is useful for my congressional colleagues to see what it is we are really talking about here, this is not an academic exercise.”

Foreign relations

How the war in Ukraine is changing the dynamic between Russia and China

Posted March 16, 2022 at 12:40 PM EDT
A Russian ruble coin and the Russian Mir payment system logo on a bank card
AFP via Getty Images
A Russian ruble. There have been questions about whether Russia may have to default on its foreign debt.

A $117 million interest payment for Russia’s foreign debt is due today. This is the first payment due since Russia invaded Ukraine and incurred a number of sanctions from the U.S., the European Union and other countries. There have been questions about
whether Russia may have to default

U.S. officials warn that Russia is turning to China for financial and military assistance to try to stay afloat amid numerous Western sanctions and a war that becomes more costly by the day. In an interview with NPR, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said China is "already on the wrong side of history" for not speaking out against the aggression in Ukraine.

“If China actually provides material support in one way or another to Russia in this effort, that would be even worse and something we're looking very carefully at," Blinken added."But I think this is doing real damage to China reputationally in Asia, in Europe, in Africa and other parts of the world, something it has to pay a lot of attention to.”

Morning Edition host Rachel Martin spoke with David Rennie, Beijing bureau chief for The Economist, about the view from China. Listen to their conversation or keep reading for details.

He said that if she had asked him two weeks ago about Beijing providing Moscow with financial and military assistance, he would have described the scenario as "vanishingly unlikely" because of how risky it would be for China. But he thinks the dynamic is changing.

“It is extraordinary the extent to which China's official line, which is high-minded, peace-loving neutrality, is actually being kind of offset now by a really blatant pro-Russian lead. And that is all about, it's an anti-American message, that Russia is standing up to the American bully,” said Rennie.

According to Rennie, the anti-American tilt manifests in the way that Chinese government and media talk about the war in Ukraine. Most Chinese people are getting a very different view of the conflict than the rest of the world, he said, one that's more focused on the bullying of the West and less on the suffering of Ukrainians.

“You look at the fact that China keeps saying that Russia's legitimate security interests need to be taken into account. You see Russia being described as pushed into a corner by America, that America has been called the chief culprit behind this war, that it is pouring fuel on the flames of war by sending arms into Ukraine,” said Rennie. “And that's not just some kind of random commentator. That's the spokesman for the foreign ministry at the podium here in Beijing and also state media, which is incredibly tightly controlled here,is putting out a very pro-Russian message, an anti-American message.”

When it comes to assistance that China could provide Russia, Rennie notes that American intelligence has talked about things like drones and missiles. But he said the most important assistance in the short-term could come in the form of a bail-out from Western sanctions and a show of diplomatic support.

“We've seen China use its way to the United Nations and other organizations to just give [Russian President] Vladimir Putin cover,” said Rennie. “And that's fundamentally because China seems to be very keen for Vladimir Putin not to lose in a humiliating way in Ukraine. So it is not using its influence over Russia to call for an end to this war right now.. It is sitting and waiting, and according to to diplomats here in Beijing, hoping that Vladimir Putin wins, perhaps with the fall of Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital, and then China can call for a ceasefire over the rubble of what remains of Ukraine.”

The Biden administration has said there will be consequences for nations that support Russia publicly, let alone financially and militarily. Rennie explained that Chinese banks and companies may just have to be more cautious about doing business with Russia to avoid getting caught and facing those consequences.

“We've seen in the past China be extremely canny about navigating similar sanctions that were imposed after the invasion and annexation of Crimea in 2014," he said. "So I think China isn't that scared of that."

Rennie believes that China does not want to be aligned with Russia in every circumstance going forward, but does want the support of a fellow autocracy as it confronts what it sees as an America that could "hold China down."

“That does involve a new world order where the rules change and it's no longer democracies declaring what is right and what is wrong,” said Rennie. “And that appeals to China very much, but not at the price of being bound to Russia.”

From Russia

Putin signs law that allows Russia to seize foreign aircraft to fly domestically

Posted March 16, 2022 at 11:32 AM EDT
Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a Security Council meeting via videolink in Moscow last Friday. This week Putin signed a law allowing Russia to seize foreign aircraft that are in the country to help with domestic flights.
Mikhail Klimentyev
SPUTNIK/AFP via Getty Images
Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a Security Council meeting via videolink in Moscow last Friday. This week Putin signed a law allowing Russia to seize foreign aircraft that are in the country to help with domestic flights.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed a law that allows Russia to seize foreign planes and use them for domestic flights, according to the state news agency TASS.

The new law comes after many Western carriers and aircraft operators announced they would stop supplying spare parts and offering maintenance and technical support services. Companies that are leasing planes to Russian airlines must terminate those leases by March 28 and repossess their aircraft as part of the broader sanctions targeting Russia for its invasion of Ukraine.

As of Sunday, only 136 of the 861 passenger and cargo aircraft in service in Russia were Russian-made, according to the aviation analytics company Cirium. The vast majority of the rest of those planes were manufactured by Western companies.

Owners of the Western aircraft had expressed concern that they would not be able to get the planes back, as NPR’s David Schaper reports.

And Russia has made it increasingly hard for owners to get planes back. Only a small fraction of the more than 600 foreign planes have been repossessed – with that low number of successes happening when the planes landed at international destinations.


A superyacht named Ragnar is stuck in Norway, because no one will sell it fuel

Posted March 16, 2022 at 11:17 AM EDT
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, left, meets with Vladimir Strzhalkovsky, the then-head of Norilsk Nickel mining giant, in the Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside Moscow in January 2011.
Alexei Druzhinin/AP
RIA Novosti POOL
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, left, meets with Vladimir Strzhalkovsky, the then-head of Norilsk Nickel mining giant, in the Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside Moscow in January 2011.

A Russian-owned superyacht can't leave a dock in Norway -- not because of sanctions, but because no one in the port will sell it fuel. The Ragnar is owned by Russian oligarch Vladimir Strzhalkovsky, a former KGB agent who has long been linked to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

"We find the discrimination against us, extremely unjust," the yacht's captain, Robert Lankester, wrote in a message decrying the ship's predicament. He noted that Strzhalkovsky is not currently on a European or U.K. sanctions list. And, he said, the yachts crew is not Russian.

Lankester’s public notice was highlighted by Norwegian public broadcaster NRK, which reports that the Malta-registered ship is sitting at a quay in Narvik, a port city in northern Norway.

Strzhalkovsky is the former head of mining giant Norilsk Nickel. The 68-meter (223 feet) Ragnar was custom-built on the hull of a former service ship capable of pushing its way through ice. Part of its bespoke interior evokes a cozy British pub, according to a profile in Boat International. And while its amenities include “a BigBo amphibious ATV, heli-skiing equipment, four See-Doos, four ski scooters, six Seabobs, a multipurpose island and a giant slide,” it currently can't find anyone who will fill its fuel tanks.

Let them row home, a local supplier told NRK. He and others say they want to support Ukraine.

The Ragnar, which was listed for sale a year ago, offers charter trips for winter getaways. But its captain says a recent trip fell through, and he now wants to bring the ship back to its home port in Malta.

Strzhalkovsky made U.S. headlines in 2017, when members of Congress pressed then-Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross about his business connections to Russia and his former role as vice chairman of the Bank of Cyprus -- a post that, for a time, he shared with Strzhalkovsky.

When Strzhalkovsky left Norilsk Nickel in 2012, he did so with a $100 million golden parachute.


The Fox News reporter injured in Ukraine is safe and out of the country

Posted March 16, 2022 at 10:53 AM EDT

Fox News says reporter Benjamin Hall is "safe and out of Ukraine," two days after he was seriously wounded in an attack that killed two of his colleagues while reporting near Kyiv.

"Ben is alert and in good spirits," FOX News Media CEO Suzanne Scott said in a statement on Wednesday. "He is being treated with the best possible care in the world and we are in close contact with his wife and family."

Scott did not elaborate on the nature or severity of Hall's injuries, but had previously said he was hospitalized after the incident.

Fox's website describes Hall as a State Department correspondent who is based in Washington, D.C. He has covered numerous foreign conflicts since joining the network in 2015, including as a foreign correspondent based in London. He previously served as a war correspondent in the Middle East and Africa.

News of his injuries prompted an outpouring of concern and well-wishes from officials at the White House, State Department and State Department Correspondents' Association, among others.

Tragically, two other members of Fox News' team in Ukraine were killed in Monday's incident. Veteran video journalist Pierre Zakrzewski and freelance journalist Oleksandra Kuvshynova were killed after the vehicle they were traveling in was struck by incoming fire, the network announced earlier this week.

Zakrzewski, 55, was an Irish citizen who had covered conflicts in places like Afghanistan and Syria for Fox News in the past. Scott remembered him for his vast talents and "tremendous skill" even under pressure.

Kuvshynova, 24, was serving as a consultant for Fox News in Ukraine, where she helped journalists gather information and speak with sources. Crew members who worked with her described her as "hard-working, funny, kind and brave."

Monday's attack came one day after American documentary filmmaker Brent Renaud was killed while reporting on fighting in Irpin, a suburb of Kyiv. Journalist Juan Arredondo was wounded in that same incident, and later described being shot at as their car passed through a checkpoint on the way to film refugees leaving the city.

Member Station Reports
From the Midwest Newsroom

A small radio station in Missouri is still airing Russian propaganda

Posted March 16, 2022 at 10:22 AM EDT

As Kavahn Mansouri reports for NPR's Midwest Newsroom:

Tune into 1140 AM or 102.9 FM in Kansas City and you might hear Jarmarl Thomas pontificating about the motives of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on his show, Fault Lines.

The week of March 7, Thomas spent a large portion of the three-hour program painting Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy as the instigator of the Russian invasion, pinning responsibility for it on Ukrainians and the United States.

Fault Lines is a show featured on Radio Sputnik, broadcast programming produced in Washington D.C. and funded by the Kremlin. The show regularly airs on KCXL, a small station in Liberty, Missouri, that can be heard for miles in any direction.

Head to KCUR.org for more.

Virtual Address

'I call on you to do more,' Zelenskyy tells U.S. lawmakers

Posted March 16, 2022 at 9:46 AM EDT
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky asked members of Congress to remember Sept. 11 and the attack on Pearl Harbor in his virtual address Wednesday.
Drew Angerer
POOL/AFP via Getty Images
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky asked members of Congress to remember Sept. 11 and the attack on Pearl Harbor in his virtual address Wednesday.

Addressing members of Congress via video link, Ukrainian President Zelenskyy issued an emotional plea for increased defense support to Ukraine.

"This is a terror that Europe has not seen, has not seen for 80 years and we are asking for a reply for an answer, to this terror from the whole world," he said Wednesday through a translator.

Speaking remotely to a packed auditorium of House and Senate members, Zelenskyy thanked President Biden for the relief aid the U.S. has already provided but went on to demand more military assistance for Ukraine and economic sanctions against Russia.

"I call on you to do more, new packages of sanctions are needed constantly every week until the Russian military machine stops," Zelenskyy said.

Zelenskyy also called for the U.S. to impose a no-fly zone over Ukraine, a request the White House has already rejected for fear it would escalate international tension with Russia. In pleading for the no-fly zone, he played a produced video showing dramatic footage of the war’s human toll. The video ended with the words: "close the sky over Ukraine."
Calling the invasion the worst war since World War Two, Zelenskyy found similarities between what his country has endured since the Russian military rolled into Ukraine last month and Pearl Harbor and Sept. 11.

And harkening to Martin Luther King’s famous “I have a dream” speech,” Zelenskyy said, “I have a need. I need to protect our sky.”

Before the speech began, Zelenskyy was met with a round of applause from a packed room of U.S. lawmakers. He was introduced by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

"Slava Ukraini," Pelosi said, which means "glory to Ukraine." She then prompted the packed room of lawmakers to repeat the phrase.

Lawmakers from both parties have pushed to help Ukraine fight off the Russian military.

Most recently, the Senate passed a resolution on Tuesday night condemning Russian President Putin for committing atrocities and alleged war crimes against the people of Ukraine. Just days ago, Congress approved $14 billion in military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine and is working on legislation to end normal trade relations with Russia.

Zelenskyy has been directly appealing to lawmakers around the world for help in stopping the Russian invasion of his country, which started less than a month ago. He spoke to members of Congress over Zoom on March 5, and this month he has also addressed the European, British and Canadian parliaments.

Biden is expected to speak later on Wednesday about providing more aid to Ukraine.

In Russia

The Russian journalist who protested on TV fears for her safety but is staying put

Posted March 16, 2022 at 9:14 AM EDT
A blonde woman wearing a tan jacket and mustard scarf walks next to a man in a yellow coat outside at night, as cameras flash near her.
AFP via Getty Images
Marina Ovsyannikova leaves the Ostankinsky District Court in Moscow on Tuesday.

The Russian woman who was arrested for protesting the war in Ukraine on live TV says she worries for her safety but has no plans to leave the country.

Marina Ovsyannikova made headlines on Monday evening when she burst onto the set of a Channel One broadcast — where she works as an editor — holding a sign with handwritten messages including "No war" and "Stop the war."

Ovsyannikova, whose father is Ukrainian and mother is Russian, recorded a video before the protest in which she blamed Russian President Vladimir Putin for the war and said she was ashamed of her role in spreading Kremlin propaganda.

She was quickly arrested, and — after a period during which her whereabouts were unknown — appeared in district court in Moscow on Tuesday, where she refused to retract her statement.

Human rights attorney Sergei Badamshin says she was fined 30,000 rubles (about $280) on an administrative charge of organizing an uncoordinated event. It was not related to her on-air protest, but a video posted to social media in which she urged Russians to protest the war.

As NPR has reported, Ovsyannikova's case is being handled by Russia's federal Investigative Committee, and any charges against her could come from new Russian laws criminalizing reporting that contradicts the government's narrative about the war.

Speaking to Reuters in her first television interview since the protest, Ovsyannikova said she doesn't plan to flee Russia and hopes her actions were worth the risk.

"I believe in what I did but I now understand the scale of the problems that I'll have to deal with, and, of course, I'm extremely concerned for my safety," she said, adding that she wants to feel like "this sacrifice was not in vain, and that people will open their eyes."

She addressed the Russian people directly: "Don't be such zombies; don't listen to this propaganda; learn how to analyse information; learn how to find other sources of information - not just Russian state television."

Speaking of state television, NPR Paris correspondent Eleanor Beardsley said in a series of tweets that it's "back to business" for Channel One.

Sharing an article from France's Le Monde, she said it's like nothing had happened, with the network quickly returning to reports on "famished Ukrainian soldiers defecting and fleeing neo-Nazis, & valiant Russian soldiers fighting for freedom & to protect motherland."

On the ground

In Lviv, provocative anti-war posters are this artist's form of resistance

Posted March 16, 2022 at 8:44 AM EDT
Artist Andriy Yermolenko makes anti-Russian posters that hang in Lviv, Ukraine.
Claire Harbage
Artist Andriy Yermolenko makes anti-Russian posters that hang in Lviv, Ukraine.

The western Ukrainian city of Lviv has managed to avoid direct Russian hits so far. People walk through its cobblestone streets during the day, and many restaurants and cafes are still open for business.

But as NPR's Leila Fadel reports, it's chock-full of signs — literally — of a nation at war. Listen here as she tours the city's protest art and meets the man behind it.

The stickers and posters plaster car windshields and bus stops. They champion Ukraine's strength, especially over its Russian foes: a honey badger tearing apart a Russian bear; Russian soldiers dissolving into the ground, with sunflowers blooming in their place.

One sticker reads "Russian military ship, go f*** yourself," recalling the words of Ukrainian soldiers defending a Black Sea island during a confrontation in late February.

Olena Lysenko, Fadel's interpreter, says signs with obscenities would have been a rare sight in Lviv before then.

But protest art, in general, is not a new phenomenon in Ukraine, which has seen its share of conflict over the years. Few people know that better than Andriy Yermolenko, the artist behind some of these works.

Yermolenko met Fadel in the city center, near one of the signs he created (it's stamped with eyes and a handlebar mustache, much like his own). He brought along his laptop, which is filled with hundreds of illustrations.

As he tells it, his story starts in 2014, when Russia invaded and annexed Crimea. One of his pieces from that year shows a pistol in a woman's mouth, and says "Think of finding a compromise."

Ukraine made concessions to Russian-backed separatists in the east to try to end the fighting, Fadel explains. And Yermolenko says it was then that Ukrainians understood that compromise with Russia would not work.

"We've been living in this situation, when they tell us that Ukraine doesn't exist, there is no Ukrainian culture, that we are not really humans, but we live with that," he says through an interpreter.

A woman wearing a blue and yellow headband puts a gun into Vladimir Putin's mouth.
Andriy Yermolenko
Andriy Yermolenko's poster depicts a woman putting a gun in Russian president Vladimir Putin's mouth. The text says, "I'm not a beauty for you," in Ukrainian.

The poster that catches Fadel's eye these days is of the same woman, eight years older. Her hair is pulled back with a headband of yellow and blue flowers. And this time she's the one holding the gun, with the barrel inside the mouth of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The text reads "I'm not a beauty for you," which Fadel says refers to lyrics Putin recently quoted from a Soviet-era punk song, which references rape and necrophilia.

"Whether you like it or don't like it, bear with it, my beauty," Putin said in the weeks before he started the war, by way of explaining what Russia sought from Ukraine.

Yermolenko says he's gotten threats on social media over his work, including one message whose author asked whether he had left the country yet and warned they would come after him soon. He remains defiant.

"I don't care," he says. "What can they do to me? The maximum what they can do is to kill me — nothing else."

Yermolenko sees the posters as a form of resistance, calling them "my bullets." But he admits it's hard to take up arms in this moment.

Choking up, he says he doesn't know whether he'll personally be able to return to Kyiv. Beyond that, he says it's difficult to face Russia's aggression at home when decisions about how and when to help his country remain in the hands of Western leaders abroad.

"The whole country is in pain right now," he says. "You need to understand that when they bombard hospitals where pregnant women are, and at the same time somebody somewhere very high are deciding to provide us with the weapons or not, it's hard."

The audio version of this story was produced by Graham Smith and Nina Kravinsky, and edited by Arezou Rezvani.


Eli Lilly stops drug exports to Russia, except for vital medicine like cancer drugs

Posted March 16, 2022 at 8:18 AM EDT

Eli Lilly says it won’t export non-essential medicines to Russia due to its invasion of Ukraine. The company is reducing its business in Russia to only provide drugs to treat diseases like cancer and diabetes.

The Indiana-based drugmaker says it has also suspended new clinical trials in Russia, along with all its investments there.

“Should we generate any profits from our sales in Russia, we will donate them to organizations dedicated to humanitarian relief,” Eli Lilly said as it announced the move. “We hope for an immediate end to the hostilities and a resolution to this crisis as soon as possible.”

Eli Lilly joins a growing list of businesses that have halted or severely limited their operations in Russia since Feb. 24, ranging from JPMorgan Chase to McDonald’s, as well as Apple and Exxon Mobil.

The cost of war

Ukraine has suffered more than half a trillion dollars in damages, its PM says

Posted March 16, 2022 at 7:55 AM EDT
Firefighters work in an apartment building damaged by shelling in Kyiv, Ukraine, Tuesday, March 15, 2022. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
Efrem Lukatsky
Firefighters try to douse flames in an apartment building damaged by Russian shelling in Kyiv, Ukraine, on Tuesday. Ukraine's prime minister says his country's economy has already suffered $565 billion losses from Russia's full-scale invasion and war against Ukraine.

Ukraine’s economy has already lost $565 billion because of its war against Russia, Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said, citing preliminary estimates.

That stunning figure is more than triple Ukraine’s GDP of $155.5 billion, according to the most recent figures from the World Bank. It’s a dire sign of the economic catastrophe that Russia has thrust Ukraine into as its forces attack civilian infrastructure and cities.

The money for restoring Ukraine, Shmyhal said, will have to come from reparations from the Russian government and help from Ukraine’s friends and partners.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has repeatedly vowed to rebuild his country when the war is over. Shmyhal released the current damage tally as the prime ministers of Poland, Slovenia and the Czech Republic made a rare visit to Kyiv on Tuesday to discuss regional unity and rebuilding efforts.

Shmyhal thanked those countries for their help, particularly their humanitarian aid and support for Ukraine’s bid to join the EU.

"We urge the whole world to help Ukraine replenish the funds for the restoration of our state,” Shmyhal said. “We are grateful for the help and support that dozens of countries and millions of people around the world are already providing to Ukraine.”

U.S. sanctions

Blinken says Russian sanctions should stay in place until Ukraine’s sovereignty is 'irreversible'

Posted March 16, 2022 at 7:35 AM EDT
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on March 9, 2022.
JIM WATSON/POOL/AFP via Getty Images
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on March 9, 2022.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken says that merely stopping the invasion of Ukraine may not be enough for Russia to gain relief from Western economic sanctions. The U.S. also wants an assurance that there will never be another such invasion.

In an interview with NPR’s Steve Inskeep on Morning Edition, Blinken spoke of Western sanctions that have cratered the Russian ruble, led global firms to shutter their Russian operations and closed the Moscow stock market. He said the pressure on Russia’s economy from sanctions is beginning to wreak long-term effects that are “growing over time.”

Blinken also reiterated that while Russia’s aggression in Ukraine is ongoing, he pointed out that fierce and sustained Ukrainian resistance “has not gone according to Putin’s plan” and that international security aid “is actually working ... is getting into Ukrainian hands, [and] that’s making all the difference in them being able to defend themselves …”

Continue below for excerpts from the interview.

On the likelihood of an extended reign of destruction by Russian forces on Ukraine’s cities:

"We've seen the brutality that Vladimir Putin has brought to this. We know his track record in Chechnya. We know the track record of what he's aided and abetted in Syria. I think we have to expect the same.

On U.S. and NATO security assistance, short of establishing a no-fly zone:

It's been extraordinary. The support that we've provided, other countries have provided, in coordination with us in terms of security assistance. The stuff that is actually working, that is getting into Ukrainian hands, that's making all the difference in them being able to defend themselves, being able to shoot down Russian planes and take out Russian tanks. That's been an extraordinary effort. And as I said, it's ongoing. We're about -- thanks to Congress -- to get another $13.5 billion, a big chunk of which will go to that effort. ... In short, we're looking at everything that we believe can be effective. And that's the main thing. We want to make sure that what we're providing, what others are providing, can get there, get into Ukrainian hands and be used effectively.

On the potential long-term impact of economic sanctions on Russia:

Europeans are looking really hard, and not only looking but starting to act on energy diversification, on energy security and weaning themselves off of Russian oil, Russian gas. That would be a major change…[O]ne of the things we're doing is denying Russia the technology it needs to modernize its country, to modernize key industries: defense and aerospace, its high tech sector, energy exploration. All of these things are going to have profound effects and again, not just the immediate effects we're seeing, but increasing and growing over time.

On “irreversible” conditions that must be met before the economic sanctions regime might be lifted:

If the war ends, Ukraine's independence, territorial integrity, sovereignty are restored, then many of the tools that we’re using to get to that result — of course, that’s the purpose of them. They’re not designed to be permanent. But in anything that happens ... we will want to make sure that anything that's done is, in effect, irreversible. This can't happen again, that Russia won't pick up and do exactly what it's doing in a year or two years or three years.

On China’s position toward Russia over Ukraine:

China's already on the wrong side of history when it comes to Ukraine and the aggression being committed by Russia. The fact that it has not stood strongly against it, that it is not pronounced itself against this aggression flies in the face of China's commitments as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. responsible for maintaining peace and security.


Ukrainian President Zelenskyy to address U.S. lawmakers at 9 a.m. ET

Posted March 16, 2022 at 7:35 AM EDT
In this image from video provided by the Ukrainian Presidential Press Office and posted on Facebook Tuesday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy speaks in Kyiv.
Ukrainian Presidential Press Office
In this image from video provided by the Ukrainian presidential press office and posted to Facebook on Tuesday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy speaks in Kyiv.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy will deliver remarks to the U.S. Congress on Wednesday morning as a war with Russia rages on within his country and more civilians die.

Wednesday’s remarks come days after President Biden signed off on a funding bill that allocates $13.6 billion in relief to Ukraine, with resources going to defense and humanitarian aid.

As a response to the invasion, the White House has taken steps to scale back trade ties with Russia, including stopping Russian oil imports.

But Zelenskyy has demanded more action from the U.S. and NATO allies, calling for them to impose a no-fly zone over Ukraine, a measure the U.S. does not support.

In recent public addresses to the United Kingdom and Canadian parliaments, Zelenskyy has made passionate attempts for more assistance.

“We will continue fighting for our land, whatever the cost,” Zelenskyy told the U.K. Parliament last week, “we will fight in the forests, on the shores, in the streets.”

The line mirrored similar rhetoric used by former Prime Minister Churchill in a World War II-era speech.

In a speech to the Canadian parliament on Tuesday, Zelenskyy addressed the country’s prime minister, Justin Trudeau.

“Dear Justin, dear guests, can you imagine, that every day you receive memorandums about the number of casualties including amount — women and children?” he said.

“Can you imagine the famous CN Tower in Toronto, if it was held by Russian bombs? Of course I don’t wish this on anyone, but this is our reality,” he added.

U.S. lawmakers will watch Wednesday’s speech from a space within the Capitol Visitor Center, part of the Capitol complex.

The speech has an added weight as the Ukrainian death toll climbs and the Russian bombing spreads farther west across Ukraine.