War in Ukraine live updates: A shelter in a theater withstands Russian shelling, but the city of Mariupol is devastated

Published March 17, 2022 at 8:19 AM EDT
Soldiers loaded with weapons walk down a street lined with parked cars.
Emre Caylak
AFP via Getty Images
Evacuees from Mariupol arrive at a shopping center on the outskirts of Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine, now a registration center for displaced people, Some 20,000 residents have been allowed to leave Mariupol through a humanitarian corridor. But exhausted, shivering evacuees speak of harrowing conditions at home.

The U.S. is sending another massive weapons package to Ukraine worth $800 million — but more notable than the cost is the type of weapons it provides. Also, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy urged German lawmakers to “tear down their wall” and become a leader in Europe again.

Here's what we're following today:

Some evacuate from Mariupol: Residents there continue to face constant Russian shelling and shortages of all basics.

A shelter in a Mariupol theater is intact: In a glimmer of good news,survivors are being pulled out of a theater that was hit by a Russian airstrike on Wednesday.

More U.S. aid to Ukraine: The package is worth $800 million — but more notable than the cost is the type of weapons it provides.

Russia Trade

House approves bill to suspend trade relations with Russia

Posted March 17, 2022 at 4:20 PM EDT

The House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved legislation suspending normal trade relations with Russia and Belarus, another move by Congress designed to squeeze Russia’s economy as its military continues assaulting Ukraine.

The U.S. currently extends “most favored nation” (MFN) status to all countries but two, North Korea and Cuba.

The White House backs the bill, sponsored by Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal, D-Mass., and the top Republican on the panel, Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas. It gives President Biden authority to increase tariffs on products from the two countries through January 1, 2024. It also suspends Russia’s participation in the World Trade Organization. It indicates that the president can restore trade relations if Russia and Belarus cease all aggression against Ukraine, but establishes a process for Congress to block that if it disagrees.

“We must do everything in our power to hold Russia accountable for the atrocities it is committing hourly in the nation of Ukraine,” Neal said on the House floor.

Brady noted that there is bipartisan, bicameral support for the effort and that as a result, “American dollars will no longer fund Russia’s war machine.”

The only lawmaker born in Ukraine, Rep Victoria Spartz, R-Indiana, said the vote was sending a message to the two countries. She noted that the leadership of Belarus allowed Russia to place rockets in their country used to attack Ukraine and that Russia and its allies cannot expect “business as usual.”

“If they want to have peace it better be soon, and they better get to the table and stop this insanity in killing of the Ukrainian people,” Spartz said.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., has said he wants the Senate to take up the measure soon but has not specified a timeline for action.


In a plea to Russians, Arnold Schwarzenegger calls out Putin and Russian propaganda

Posted March 17, 2022 at 3:46 PM EDT
Former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger looks at a Super Huey, a helicopter used for dropping water at fires, during a tour at McClellan Air Force Base in Sacramento, Calif., on Aug. 1, 2019.
Daniel Kim
Sacramento Bee via AP
In a new video, former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger says he wants the Russian people to know the truth about the war in Ukraine.

In a new video, Arnold Schwarzenegger makes an emotional plea to the Russian people about the war in Ukraine, calling out propaganda and addressing Russian President Vladimir Putin.

When he sees images of babies being pulled out of ruins, the actor and former governor of California says it feels like he's watching the horrors of World War II.

"This is not the war to defend Russia that your grandfather or your great grandfathers fought," he said. "This is an illegal war."

Weaving his own experiences through the message, Schwarzenegger talks about his father, who fought for the Nazis in WWII, and Yuri Petrovich Vlasov, a Russian weightlifter.

Vlasov was Schwarzenegger's hero, and later posted a photo of him on his bedroom wall. But Schwarzenegger's father told him to take the photo down, and to find another role model.

Schwarzenegger said his father did not like Russians because of his experience in WWII.

Still, a young Schwarzenegger kept the photo on his wall. He remembers visiting Russia years later, meeting Vlasov again and being greeted by Schwarzenegger's own fans.

"Ever since I was 14 years old, I've had noting but affection and respect for the people of Russia. The strength and the heard of the Russian people have always inspired me," he said. "That is why I hope you will let me tell the truth."

Schwarzenegger goes on to debunk false information about the war in Ukraine. He tells viewers that the Russian invasion is not to de-Nazify Ukraine, as Putin has claimed. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is Jewish, Schwarzenegger noted.

"The world has turned against Russia because of its actions in Ukraine," Schwarzenegger says. "Whole city blocks have been flattened by Russian artillery and bombs, including a children's hospital and a maternity hospital."

Schwarzenegger notes that Russian soldiers have also been killed as Ukrainians fights for their homeland. Many Russians have family connections in Ukraine, too, he adds.

He also addressed Putin: "You started this war, you are leading this war, you can stop this war."

Schwarzenegger says the Russians protesting the invasion of Ukraine are his new heroes.

U.S. is working with allies to provide Ukraine with more effective air defense systems, senior defense official says

Posted March 17, 2022 at 2:46 PM EDT

A day after the Ukrainian president appealed directly to American lawmakers for more help against the Russian invasion, a senior Pentagon official said the U.S. is working in consultation with allies on how to get more effective air defense systems to Ukraine.

This may include efforts to backfill NATO allies like Slovakia. Earlier, at a press conference alongside Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, Slovakian Defense Minister Jaroslav Nad’ offered to send the S-300 system if Slovakia is guaranteed a replacement in order to maintain its own defense against potential Russian attack. The S-300 is a Soviet designed system that can take down Russian jets miles-high in the air over Ukraine.

“The US is going to stay hard at the task of seeing what we can do to get (Ukraine) long-range air defenses,” according to a senior Pentagon official.

The official said there were no major changes to the amount of territory occupied by Russia, and that the advance on Kyiv continues to be stalled. The official said Russia appears to be considering resupply of its troops inside Ukraine as the war enters its fourth week.

Just In
State department

A U.S. citizen has been killed in Ukraine

Posted March 17, 2022 at 1:52 PM EDT

A State Department spokesperson has confirmed that a U.S. citizen was killed in Ukraine today.

The department would not confirm the identity of the citizen or where they were killed, “out of respect to the family during this difficult time.”

Russian reports

A Russian court extended Brittney Griner's detention until May 19, state media says

Posted March 17, 2022 at 12:04 PM EDT
A side view of Brittney Griner, wearing a purple t-shirt and looking upward.
Mike Mattina/Getty Images
Getty Images North America
Brittney Griner of the Phoenix Mercury, pictured at a game in 2021. Russian state media reports she will remain in custody until May 19.

A Russian court has extended basketball star Brittney Griner's detention on drug charges until late May, according to state-owned news agency TASS.

The Russian government announced earlier this month that it had detained Griner at a Moscow-area airport for allegedly transporting vape cartridges containing hashish oil in her luggage. It is not clear when the arrest took place, though TASS previously reported it happened in February.

The agency reported on Thursday that the Moscow region's Khimkinsky court has ruled to detain Griner for at least two more months.

"The court granted the petition of the investigation and extended the term of U.S. citizen Griner's detention until May 19," TASS quoted the court as saying.

Griner has been accused of transporting drugs, a charge that the customs service said could carry a possible sentence of five to 10 years.

Ekaterina Kalugina, a member of Public Monitoring Commission — a semi-official body with access to Russian prisons — told TASS that Griner was sharing a cell with two other women who have no previous convictions.

Kalugina said she helped bring Griner some books, and that she is currently reading Doestoevsky and a Rolling Stones biography. Griner's only issue was that the prison beds too short for her 6'7" frame, she added.

Griner is a seven-time WNBA All-Star center and two-time Olympic gold medalist who plays for both the Phoenix Mercury and Russian basketball club UMMC Ekaterinburg. She is one of many WNBA stars who play overseas during its winter off-season to make more money.

Read more here.


The European Space Agency suspends joint Europe-Russia mission to Mars

Posted March 17, 2022 at 12:03 PM EDT
This illustration made available by the European Space Agency shows the European-Russian ExoMars rover. On Monday, Feb. 28, 2022, the ESA said the planned launch of a joint mission with Russia to Mars this year is now “very unlikely” due to sanctions linked to the war in Ukraine.
AOES medialab M.Thiebaut/AP
European Space Agency
This illustration made available by the European Space Agency shows the European-Russian ExoMars rover.

The European Space Agency suspended a joint European-Russian mission to Mars that was slated to launch later this year.

The agency said late last month that the latter part of the two-part ExoMars program will likely be delayed, but made it official Thursday.

The two-part mission was designed to investigate whether life has ever existed on Mars.

The program began in 2016 and the second leg was slated to begin as early as September.

"While recognising the impact on scientific exploration of space, ESA is fully aligned with the sanctions imposed on Russia by its Member States," the intergovernmental organization said in a release.

The agency's ruling council unanimously authorized the ESA director general to "carry out a fast-track industrial study" to determine ways to move forward with the rover mission.

Inside Russia

Russia is reportedly facing sugar shortages, and it’s launching an inquiry

Posted March 17, 2022 at 11:47 AM EDT

Russia’s Federal Antimonopoly Service has begun “anti-cartel” inquiries into several sugar producers. Reports of sugar shortages and panic buying have emerged since Russia invaded Ukraine three weeks ago, sparking strict sanctions.

A sharp rise in sugar prices and market scarcity prompted the inspections, state-run Tass media reported on Thursday.

The owner of a sweets maker in St. Petersburg tells the Media Zona website that while sugar’s price had risen during the pandemic, her purveyor had no more sugar one week after the war began. When she did find sugar, it was only available in limited quantities, she said.

The reports come as a video emerged from a Magnit grocery store in Kasimov (about 175 miles southeast of Moscow), showing a crowd of people descending on a newly replenished sugar display, in a frenzy to pull multiple bags out.

Russia recently banned some exports of sugar and grain, seeking to bolster domestic supplies of those essentials.

Sugar has long been a barometer of inflation’s impact on the Russian economy. When Russia was seeing a sharp rise in food prices in 2015, the government launched price-fixing cases against two sugar companies.

International Dispatch
From Starovoitove, Ukraine

A protracted war could put 90% of Ukrainians at risk of poverty, the U.N. says

Posted March 17, 2022 at 10:32 AM EDT
A man leans over rubble outside of a damaged building on a city street.
Sergei Supinsky/AFP via Getty Images
A man takes out the garbage from his cafe, which was destroyed by shelling during Russia's invasion of Ukraine in Kyiv on Thursday.

Russia's aggression has already caused massive economic damage to Ukraine. Now, a new analysis from the U.N. shows that a drawn-out war could leave 90% of Ukraine's population at risk of falling into poverty.

The U.N. Development Programme says the fighting in Ukraine has already caused more than $100 billion in damage to vital infrastructure and closed half of all businesses, according to government estimates, and displaced millions of people from their homes.

A protracted war, the U.N. says, could push the number of Ukrainians living on less than $5 a day from 3% before the conflict to 28% in a matter of months. Under a worst-case scenario, more than 90% of the population could be living on less than $13 a day by the end of 2022.

The head of UNDP warns of an alarming economic decline if the conflict continues.

“While the need for immediate humanitarian assistance to Ukrainians is of the utmost importance, the acute development impacts of a protracted war are now becoming more apparent,” said UNDP Administrator Achim Steiner. “An alarming economic decline, and the suffering and hardship it will bring to an already traumatised population must now come into sharper focus. There is still time to halt this grim trajectory.”

The U.N. is calling for massive humanitarian aid including cash assistance to individual families to help Ukrainians survive.


Ukraine PM says Nestlé has refused to pull out of Russia

Posted March 17, 2022 at 10:23 AM EDT
View of Nestle's logo on a road sign near the world's biggest food company headquarters on August 10, 2011 in Vevey. Nestle posted a 13.7 percent fall in first half net profit to 4.7 billion Swiss francs ($6.5 billion, €4.5 billion), hurt by the strong Swiss franc against most major currencies. Sales also fell 12.9 percent to 41 billion francs for the six months ending June, as the foreign exchange rate had a negative impact of 13.8 percent. AFP PHOTO / FABRICE COFFRINI (Photo credit should read FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP via Getty Images)
Fabrice Coffrini
AFP via Getty Images
Nestlé headquarters in Vevey, Switzerland. Ukraine's prime minister asked the company to stop doing business in Russia.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal is urging food giant Nestlé to leave the Russian market — but he says the company does not agree.

Shmyhal said on Thursday that he spoke to Nestlé CEO Mark Schneider about pulling business from Russia, over that country’s invasion of Ukraine. “Unfortunately, he shows no understanding,” he added.

Stating that paying taxes in Russia will fuel its war effort, Shmyhal said, “Hope that Nestle will change its mind soon.”

Nestlé’s name quickly became a top trending topic on Twitter in Ukraine, with people pledging to boycott the company.

Nestlé said in a statement on March 11 that said it has halted advertising in Russia and suspended all capital investments, most exports out of the country and most imports into the country — with exceptions including baby food, tailored nutrition and therapeutic pet foods.

"We stand with the international community in calling for peace and the rapid restoration of security and stability in the region," the statement reads. "Across our global footprint, we have consistently stayed the course — including during difficult times — to serve the local people who need it the most."

On March 2, the corporation released a statement from Schneider, expressing his dismay at the conflict and calling for peace. It also said it would match employees’ donations to the International Federation of Red Cross Societies, up to 1 million Swiss francs (a bit more than $1 million).

The Nestlé leadership team in Ukraine has been more outspoken, saying on March 4 that they strongly condemn Russia's invasion and what they said was an incredibly brutal war. They added that their in-country staff of 5,800 employees had worked to donate and deliver more than a million units of Nestlé products — from baby food to other groceries — to hospitals, shelters, the military and people in need in Ukraine.

Humanitarian aid

The WHO says Ukrainian health care is under attack, and it needs more funds to help

Posted March 17, 2022 at 9:47 AM EDT
A man in a suit and tie speaks at a microphone, with one hand in front of him.
Johanna Geron
Pool/AFP via Getty Images
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus speaks at a summit at The European Council Building in Brussels on Feb. 18.

The World Health Organization has verified 43 attacks on health care in the three weeks since Russia invaded Ukraine and says hundreds more facilities remain at risk.

In remarks on Wednesday, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus outlined the agency's efforts to meet Ukrainians' immediate health needs and said more donor support is needed in order to do so. The WHO has received just $8 million of its $57.5 million appeal so far, he added.

"Huge amounts of money are being spent on weapons. We ask donors to invest in ensuring that civilians in Ukraine and refugees receive the care they need," he said. "And we continue to call for attacks on health care to stop."

More than 300 health facilities lie within conflict lines or areas that Russia claims to control, Ghebreyesus said, and another 600 are within 10 kilometers (or just over 6 miles) of the conflict line.

He added that the WHO has established supply lines to many Ukrainian cities, but is facing financial constraints and access issues in getting people the support they need.

The WHO is sending personnel and supplies to the region

It has opened a field office in Poland to support its Ukrainian operations and coordinate the response to refugee health needs, and is also deploying 20 Emergency Medical Teams of international experts, pending a formal request for assistance from Ukraine's health ministry.

The agency is also sending equipment and supplies to Ukraine. Those include some 220,000 pounds of things like oxygen, insulin, surgical supplies, anesthetics and blood transfusion kits, electrical generators and defibrillators, with nearly 240,000 pounds more on the way.

Ghebreyesus' appeal came days after the WHO warned that it was "working day and night" to keep medical supply chains open and Ukraine's health system functioning.

It said many distributors aren't operating, some stockpiles are inaccessible because of military operations, medicine supplies are running low and hospitals are struggling to meet the needs of sick and wounded patients — as missile attacks on healthcare facilities continue.

"Nurses have had to ventilate patients manually in hospital basements, away from Russian shelling," the United Nations wrote in a release.

Russia has targeted health care facilities in previous conflicts, such as the Chechen War from 1999 to 2009 and the ongoing civil war in Syria. Experts spoke to NPR about the immediate and long-term effects of those attacks.

The WHO is also working to support the healthcare systems of neighboring countries, which have taken in millions of Ukrainian refugees in recent weeks.

The WHO is getting and soliciting funding from a variety of sources

The WHO Foundation launched an emergency appeal on March 3, in which it called on people around the world to help raise approximately $57.5 million to "fund the large-scale emergency response needed to deliver urgent healthcare and support the immediate health needs of those affected by the crisis, in Ukraine and surrounding countries." The donation page is here.

It broke that sum down into $45 million to support Ukrainian access to healthcare, and $12.5 million to aid Ukrainian refugees in countries like Poland, Hungary, Moldova, Slovakia and Romania.

"The people of Ukraine need urgent action and support from the rest of the world to ensure its healthcare is functioning and protected so further loss of life is prevented," said Anil Soni, CEO of the WHO Foundation. "I urge anyone who can to donate to ensure all those in need of basic health care, as well as those wounded and directly affected by the conflict, have safe access to lifesaving care."

The U.N. also said earlier this week that it is allocating $40 million from its Central Emergency Response Fund to "ramp up vital assistance to reach the most vulnerable," the second round of such funding since the start of the war.

A U.N. crisis relief flash appeal started on March 1 requires $1.1 billion in immediate funding to support 6 million of Ukraine's most vulnerable people. Donors reported contributing $219 million as of Monday. Plus, private-sector donors have so far contributed some $200 million — out of the $510 million sought — to a separate appeal from the U.N. refugee agency, aimed at helping families displaced by the fighting.

Ukraine is far from the only country with a vulnerable healthcare system

While discussing the dire situation in Ukraine, Ghebreyesus also noted on Wednesday that it is far from the only place where health workers, facilities, patients, infrastructure and supply are under attack.

"2022 is only 75 days old, but already WHO has verified 89 attacks on health care around the world, in Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Libya, Nigeria, the occupied Palestinian territory, Sudan, the Syrian Arab Republic, and of course, Ukraine," he said.

Those attacks have killed 35 people and injured 53. That includes the eight polio vaccination workers who were killed in Afghanistan last month, the same day that Russian forces first invaded Ukraine.

International Dispatch
On the Ground

How some people are trying to make art, not war, in Ukraine right now

Posted March 17, 2022 at 9:26 AM EDT

LVIV, Ukraine — Slava Vakarchuk is used to filling stadiums. He's the lead singer of Okean Elzy, Ukraine's biggest rock band.

But on the day the war began, he was at home in the capital Kyiv. He woke up early, to news of Russian President Vladimir Putin announcing a "military operation" in Ukraine.

"And the moment I read it — I mean, literally, the next second — I hear a big blow, probably five miles from my house," Vakarchuk, 46, recalls.

He jumped into his car and made a big decision in that moment.

"I started touring the country once again. But not with music," he says. "I decided to go to the points that are in danger."

For the past three weeks, Vakarchuk has been driving back and forth into frontline cities where some of the worst fighting has been — Kharkiv, Zaphorizhzha, Odesa — delivering food and medicine. He's also, in a way, delivering moral support to his countrymen, he says.

"For example, you're at a gas station and somebody sees you and wants to hug you, embrace you, cuddle you," he told NPR in an interview in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv. "It's emotional. People need it."

Ukrainian musicians and artists are responding to war in lots of different ways. Vakarchuk is one of many Ukrainian celebrities who are using their fame and connections to speed relief supplies to those who need them most.

Stepan Burban is a Ukrainian rapper who goes by Palindrom. He is in Lviv trying to help with displaced people.
Claire Harbage
Stepan Burban is a Ukrainian rapper who goes by the name Palindrom. He is in Lviv trying to help with displaced people.

Others are doubling down on their art. There's been an outpouring of protest art online. Some Ukrainian musicians have already recorded new songs about the war.
Some of those songs are quite angry.

"Russians get out, go to hell," say the lyrics of a new song by the Ukrainian rapper Stepan Burban, better known as Palindrom. "You're not even fit to be fertilizer on Ukrainian soil."

"I had to express my anger [about the war]," Burban, 27, tells NPR. "I couldn't keep it inside."

When NPR met Burban, he was rushing to buy groceries for war evacuees at an art gallery in Lviv, where traumatized evacuees and artists have been camping out together, helping one another process their anger.

At the Lviv Municipal Arts Center, there are yoga mats on the floor, piles and piles of groceries and phone chargers — and a huge grand piano in the middle. The modern cement arts space has become a shelter for war evacuees, as well as a place where people are creating art in the middle of a war.

A poster for the territorial defense forces hangs in Lviv Municipal Art Center amongst other artwork.
Claire Harbage
A poster for the territorial defense forces hangs in Lviv Municipal Art Center amongst other artwork.

"In the first days [of the war], we were full of adrenaline, and we really didn't think about art," explains Lyana Mytsko, the arts center's director. "But after a few days, we started open call for guys who make posters."

Propaganda posters. Ukrainian artists answered the call, and within days were churning out paintings and drawings, which have been xeroxed and posted on telephone poles and street corners all over Ukraine. There's one of a civilian mother and child encircled by ghoulish Russian invaders, and another of a Russian imperial dragon consuming itself. It's haunting, like Picasso's Guernica. There are even posters with instructions on how to make Molotov cocktails.

This is art as a rallying cry. It's also therapy. People who've fled Russian bombardment are camping out here with artists, creating with them. There are psychologists on hand too.

Lyana Mytsko, the director of Lviv Municipal Art Center where they are taking in displaced people and had a call for posters to support Ukrainians during the war.
Claire Harbage
Lyana Mytsko is the director of Lviv Municipal Art Center, which is are taking in displaced people and issued a call for posters to support Ukrainians during the war.

Mytsko says artists and musicians keep contacting her and asking how they can help.

Here's what she tells them: Art is not an extra little thing — a sidebar — in this war. Putin has said Ukraine is not a real country — that it doesn't have a real culture of its own. Go out and prove him wrong, Mytsko says.

"Artists now, they feel like, 'I cannot take a gun into my hands! What should I do?' " she says. "But they really must know that every one of them is a gun of Ukrainian culture. Every one of them can make music and make pictures, and can take our soul up, up, up."

A poster supporting Ukraine's military in downtown Lviv.
Claire Harbage
A poster supporting Ukraine's military in downtown Lviv.

But for some artists, making art these days is difficult.

Vakarchuk, the rock star, has been away from his piano, spending long days in his car, delivering aid to the needy. At a stop Lviv’s train station, though, he gave an impromptu outdoor concert to war evacuees.

While driving, he composed a poem in his head. Just like the rapper Palindrom's new song, it's dark and angry. Vakarchuk isn't sure if he'll ever be able to put it to music.

"Where have you come from, my hatred," is the opening line.

"The theme is, for 46 years of my life, I never experienced, never faced, this feeling of hatred — and now it's present in my veins," Vakarchuk says. "It's toxic. I want to get rid of it. But the only way to get rid of it now is to win the war."

Win the war. Go back to his piano. Try to go back to what things were like before, he says.

He wishes he could.

International Dispatch
From Lviv

Some Ukrainian civilians have been able to flee Mariupol amidst the violence

Posted March 17, 2022 at 8:51 AM EDT
People sit inside, one of them on the phone, in front of a window showing people with coats and bags crossing the street.
Emre Caylak
AFP via Getty Images
Evacuees from Mariupol wait at the Zaporizhzhya State Circus for transportation to other locations on Wednesday.

Fighting in Ukraine continues even as the two sides continue fragile negotiations aimed at ending the bloodshed.

Meantime, some Ukrainian civilians were able to leave the embattled city of Mariupol in the southeast.

Residents there continue to face constant Russian shelling and shortages of all basics. Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy compared the Russian siege of Mariupol to the deadly Nazi blockade of Leningrad during World War II.

Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Verashuk says they’re trying to ensure safe passage for more civilians, and "spent all day in very tough negotiations" to ensure ceasefires around humanitarian corridors.

The ceasefire did not hold, she says, and vital aid did not get through. But 15 large buses still managed to make it out of Mariupol on Wednesday. Some 20,000 civilians in all have been able to flee what the Red Cross and others call a humanitarian catastrophe.

On the ground

Mariupol theater is devastated in airstrike, but its bomb shelter is intact, officials say

Posted March 17, 2022 at 8:26 AM EDT
A satellite of the Mariupol theater from Monday, before it was bombed. The word "children" is written in white on the pavement.
Satellite Images
©2022 Maxar Technologies
A satellite of the Mariupol theater from Monday, before it was bombed. The word "children" is written in white on the pavement.

A glimmer of good news has emerged in Mariupol, where survivors are being pulled out of a theater that was being used as a shelter — and which was hit by a Russian airstrike on Wednesday.

A bomb shelter beneath the large theater survived intact, according to Ukrainian member of parliament Sergiy Taruta. After hours of uncertainty in which rescue crews worked to remove rubble and debris, he said in a social media post, people were finally being brought safely out of the shelter.

“People come out alive!” Taruta wrote, according to a translation by former Ukrainian diplomat Olexander Scherba. Taruta is a former governor of Donetsk, the region that includes Mariupol.

Satellite imagery from March 14 shows that the word "Children" (Дети) had been written in Russian on the ground in front of and behind the red-roofed theater, according to Maxar Technologies. That same message is frequently seen on cars and elsewhere during the war, as civilians hope Russian forces will avoid firing on them.

Mariupol’s Drama Theater is believed to have been sheltering hundreds of people when it was devastated by the Russian attack. It’s not yet known how many of them survived, or what condition they’re in.

Ukrainian officials shared footage of the devastated theater on Thursday, with the Mariupol City Council saying the central part of the large building was destroyed.

People in Mariupol have been living under siege since Russian forces isolated it and began shelling the port city. Residents have been desperate to flee, as attacks disrupted critical services and infrastructure. Several attempts to establish humanitarian corridors have been marred by continued fire, but some people have managed to flee. In the past two days, the city’s mayor said via Telegram, 6,500 private cars were able to leave the city.

Russia’s military is razing Mariupol to the ground, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on Thursday.

“They just destroy everything there. Everything and everyone who is there,” Zelenskyy said in a speech to German lawmakers. “Hundreds of thousands of people are under shelling around the clock. No food, 24 hours a day without water, no electricity, 24 hours a day without communication. For weeks.”

Virtual address

Zelenskyy criticizes Germany's lack of leadership in a speech to lawmakers

Posted March 17, 2022 at 8:21 AM EDT
People sit in rows of blue chairs watching President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on two TV screens.
Hannibal Hanschke
Getty Images
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addresses the German Bundestag via live video from Kyiv on Thursday in Berlin.

In a morning address to Germany’s parliament, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy blasted Germany for putting business over democratic principles. His scathing speech urged both parliamentarians and Chancellor Olaf Scholz to “tear down their wall” and become a leader in Europe again.

“We always said Nord Stream 2 is a weapon and a preparation for the great war, and we got the answer that it was business, business, business,” Zelenskyy told the assembled parliamentarians via video conference.

“Now you’re dragging your feet on Ukraine’s admission to the EU. Frankly … that is a brick in the new wall," he added. "When we appealed for preventative sanctions, we turned to you … but we felt the delay, the resistance. We’ve understood: you want business, business, business."


What the latest U.S. military aid to Ukraine can tell us about the state of the war

Posted March 17, 2022 at 8:19 AM EDT
President Biden sits at a small desk signing a piece of paper, while two men and a woman stand behind him.
Nicholas Kamm
AFP via Getty Images
President Biden participates in a signing ceremony after delivering remarks about funds to aid Ukraine. Behind him are Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley.

The U.N. Security Council is holding an emergency meeting today to discuss the war in Ukraine and respond to Russia's military aggression. It comes a day after Ukrainian officials say Russian forces attacked a theater sheltering hundreds of civilians.

Also yesterday: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy implored U.S. lawmakers for more help in a video address, and President Biden approved another massive weapons package — worth $800 million — for Ukraine. That brings the total amount of U.S. assistance to Ukraine's military to more than a billion dollars since Russia invaded three weeks ago.

NPR national security correspondent Greg Myre says that even more notable than the cost of this latest package is the type of weapons it provides. Hear his conversation withMorning Edition's Leila Fadel, and read on for details.

What's in the package?

Myre says the three key items are all considered very urgent.

The package provides for more Javelin missiles, which have been very effective against Russian tanks so far — he calls them "perhaps the single most potent weapon that Ukraine has had." It also includes Stinger anti-aircraft missiles, which Ukraine is already using against low-flying Russian planes and helicopters.

And it introduces 100 drones, which Myre says will reportedly be so small that soldiers can carry them in their backpacks before taking them out to deploy. They're formally known as Switchblades, but are often called "Kamikaze drones" because they explode upon hitting their target.

How do these weapons compare with Russia's?

Myre says the drones wouldn't completely close the gap between the Russians' manned aircraft, but, citing a senior U.S. defense official, are intended to "deliver a punch."

And while Ukraine can't match Russia tank for tank, he says, small units or even individuals are well-equipped to ambush Russian forces.

"The common thread here is Ukrainians are relying on very agile, nimble, portable systems versus the Russians, who are using larger, more powerful and somewhat lumbering weapons systems," Myre explains.

Has there been movement towards the no-fly zone Ukraine has been calling for?

Ukrainian officials are still calling on Western leaders to implement a no-fly zone over its skies and provide them with MiG fighter jets. Myre says neither is likely to happen.

The jets are a small number of older planes that belong to Poland, and U.S. officials have said they don't think they will make a big difference when it comes to air power.

And the U.S. remains very much opposed to a no-fly zone. Myre explains that the first step for creating one would be to attack the Russian air defense system on the ground or take out Russian planes in the sky, and the "expectation would be almost-certain combat with Russia," which Biden says is not going to happen.

Where could the conflict be headed next?

Myre predicts there will be more battles for Kyiv and other big Ukrainian cities, with each side fighting in very different ways.

Russian forces are basically stalled outside the cities, unleashing intense shelling in an effort to encircle them and pound Ukrainians into submission, he says. Ukrainians can't stop these artillery attacks, but can prevent large Russian armored columns from entering their cities — "and the weapons the U.S. is providing are designed to help them do exactly that."