War in Ukraine live updates: A defiant Ukraine rejects Russia's demand to surrender Mariupol

Published March 21, 2022 at 7:49 AM EDT
A several-story building lies crumpled to one side. Several people stand on rubble in front.
Efrem Lukatsky
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AP
People examine the damage after the shelling of a shopping center in Kyiv, Ukraine, on Monday. At least eight people were killed in the attack.

Russia offered the ultimatum Sunday: Surrender Mariupol — where a city official says thousands of civilians in bomb shelters are running out of food — by early today, and Russian troops would let civilians leave and humanitarian aid enter. Ukrainian officials refused. In the capital, Kyiv, Russian strikes destroyed a shopping center, killing more civilians.

Here's what else we're following today:

A shift change at Chernobyl: Russian troops have allowed about half of the staff at the damaged plant to leave for the first time since they took control of the site nearly four weeks ago.

The last European Union diplomat in Mariupol leaves: Greek Consul General Manolis Androulakis had stayed in the besieged city to help ethnic Greek families evacuate.

Bombing in Kyiv strikes French home improvement store

Posted March 21, 2022 at 3:10 PM EDT

Oleksiy Goncharenko, a member of Ukraine's parliament, posted a video on Twitter Monday in which he's standing inside a shopping center in Kyiv that was bombed the night before.

The business near where he stood is home to Leroy Merlin, a home improvement store with French ownership.

With debris and an alarm going off around him, Goncharenko said: "Special hello to Leroy Merlin, which is now considering whether to go from Russia or not, and for the moment they have not decided. Just watch this," he said, panning to show the debris and water behind him, an alarm going off. "That's how looks country where you want to work. And from taxes, your taxes that you will pay there, will buy and produce such missiles which will do like this. Leroy Merlin, is it okay for you, the picture like this?"

Goncharenko said that an employee of the company had been killed in the attack.

An Instagram account reportedly run by employees of Leroy Merlin Ukraine called on the parent company Adeo to stop its sales in Russia.

The account linked to a petition to do just that, writing that the tragedy had touched Leroy Merlin Ukraine directly: "[T]he destroyed shop is nothing compared to the lost lives of colleagues. We will always remember. Friends, please, we once again urge you to join our petition against the activities of Adeo group stores in the aggressor country."

The Russian news agency TASS shared a press release earlier this month that Leroy Merlin would continue to operate its 112 stores in Russia, with no changes planned.

In a letter to suppliers, the leaders of Leroy Merlin's Russian arm said that "sales have significantly increased" since Russia invaded Ukraine, noting "the disappearance of certain companies from the market," The Telegraphreported.

More context: Leroy Merlin is owned by the Mulliez family, which also controls other major brands including sporting goods company Decathlon and supermarket chain Auchan.

The Mulliez family is the world's 15th richest family, with some $46 billion in wealth, according to Bloomberg.

Adeo has not commented publicly on the matter. NPR has not been able to reach anyone from the company for comment.

Some other major companies have also continued to operate in Russia, unlike most multinational companies.

The French food giant Danone announced earlier this month it will continue to produce and sell dairy and baby food in Russia "in order to meet the basic food needs of the civil population," though it said it would stop making investments in Russia and had closed one of its factories in Ukraine.

Unilever PLC, which is based in the United Kingdom, has suspended its imports and exports from Russia and halted media spending though it said it will "continue to supply our everyday essential food and hygiene products made in Russia to people in the country."

Koch Industries, based in Kansas, continues to operatetwo glass factories in Russia.

Mars, the U.S.-based company known as a candymaker, has suspended new investments in Russia. It continues to sell its food and pet food there, saying it will donate all profits from its Russian business to humanitarian causes.

World response

The U.N. chief warns of 'mutually assured destruction' as countries race to find alternatives to Russian fossil fuels

Posted March 21, 2022 at 2:31 PM EDT

As countries scramble to replace Russian fossil fuel exports with alternatives, the secretary-general of the United Nations warned that "addiction to fossil fuels is mutually assured destruction."

Speaking at a sustainability summit Monday, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres cautioned that short-term measures to increase oil production may impact the world’s ability to fight climate change in the long-term.

“Countries could become so consumed by the immediate fossil fuel supply gap that they neglect or kneecap policies to cut fossil fuel use,” said Guterres. “This is madness.”

The Russian invasion of Ukraine and subsequent economic sanctions levied by Western nations have led to an increase in oil and gas prices, and world leaders have scrambled to contain the economic fallout from those higher energy costs.

Earlier this month, gasoline price topped an average of $4.17 a gallon in the U.S., a new national record. In response, the Biden administration is "looking to countries such as Saudi Arabia to pump more oil, as well as potentially easing sanctions on Iran and Venezuela," as NPR's Brittany Cronin reported.

Politicians have also called for U.S. oil producers to pump more gas, with White House spokesperson Jen Psaki saying earlier this month that the war in Ukraine was a reason to “go get more supply out of the ground in our own country.”

Guterres warned that mindset could massively impact the world’s goal to cut global emissions 45% by 2030 and limit the planet’s warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2100. He urged countries to seize this moment as an opportunity to make major strides towards renewable energy.

“Instead of hitting the brakes on the decarbonization of the global economy, now is the time to put the pedal to the metal towards a renewable energy future,” said Guterres.

He called for nations to phase out coal and all fossil fuels, focusing on a sustainable energy transition as the only true pathway to energy security.

The U.N. secretary-general's comments come on the heels of a 10-point plan released by the International Energy Agency to reduce oil usage.

Member Station Reports
From KERA

A Texas restaurant serving Russian food rebrands itself after the invasion of Ukraine

Posted March 21, 2022 at 2:06 PM EDT

As KERA’s Kailey Broussard reports:

Val Tsalko says he and his staff at Taste of Europe were in the middle of rebranding the Eastern European restaurant and grocery store in Texas when the Russian invasion of Ukraine began. When they started receiving threatening calls and messages over a sign that said "Russian gifts," they acted fast.

Head to KERA for more.

Member Station Reports
From WNYC/Gothamist

Activists protest Russian oil tankers as they idle at New York-area ports

Posted March 21, 2022 at 1:05 PM EDT

As Gothamist’s Jake Offenhartz reports:

Environmental activists are protesting oil tankers carrying Russian fossil fuels into the New York area as energy companies take advantage of a grace period before an official ban on oil and gas from the country goes into effect.

Head to Gothamist for more.

Military

Russia showed almost no signs of advancement this past week: U.S. defense official

Posted March 21, 2022 at 12:32 PM EDT
An overhead view of a destroyed area, with skyscrapers in the background and pieces of yellow caution tape in the foreground.
Anastasia Vlasova
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Getty Images
A missile strike destroyed the area that was home to a shopping mall in Kyiv, Ukraine, on Monday.

Russian forces in Ukraine have shown almost no signs of advancing over the past week, a senior U.S. defense official says, though they have stepped up artillery shelling in recent days.

Russian combat planes flew more than 300 missions over the past 24 hours, a significant uptick from the roughly 200 a day they have been averaging. They have also increased shelling from ships in the Black Sea, though there’s no sign of an imminent invasion on the port city of Odesa.

None of this activity has resulted in advances by Russian forces in the war, now on its 26th day. That's according to the official, who says Russia is trying to "break out” and achieve momentum on the battlefield, underscoring that the war remains a “dynamic active battle space.”

The Russians built up huge resources in terms of troops and weapons before the war began and still have close to 90% of their combat power available.

But they are continuing to face a range of logistics issues, the official said: They are still having difficulties in integrating air and ground operations, a significant portion of their precision-guided weapons are failing to launch or are not exploding on impact and they are often using unclassified communications equipment that is "not as strong as it should be."

Mourning

A 96-year-old Holocaust survivor was killed when Russian forces shelled his home

Posted March 21, 2022 at 12:05 PM EDT

Among the victims of Russia's war in Ukraine is a Holocaust survivor who devoted his life to preserving its history.

Boris Romantschenko survived four concentration camps including Buchenwald, Dora and Bergen Belsen. The 96-year-old was killed last week when Russian forces shelled his apartment building in Kharkiv, the Buchenwald and Mittelbau-Dora Memorials Foundation said in a tweet.

"Now he has been killed by a bullet that hit his house," they wrote. "We are stunned."

Citing Romantschenko's granddaughter, the group said he lived in a multistory building that was hit by Russian shelling on Friday.

It also said, according to an English translation, that he "campaigned intensively for the memory of the Nazi crimes and was vice president of the Buchenwald-Dora International Committee."

The foundation shared a photo of several men standing in a row in front of various countries' flags, with one man reading from a piece of paper.

It said that the picture was taken during a 2012 commemoration event marking the anniversary of Buchenwald's liberation and that Romanchenko was reading out the Oath of Buchenwald, written for the first memorial service for the dead at the camp after it was liberated in 1945, to "build a new world of peace and freedom."

Although the exact death toll of Russia's aggression in Kharkiv — Ukraine's second-largest city — is not clear, police there said at least 250 civilians have died.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly described a goal of his military operation as the "denazification" of Ukraine, a claim that scholars have told NPR distorts both history and reality.

Earlier this month, Russian strikes in Kyiv hit the Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial Center, where Nazis killed nearly 34,000 Jewish people over a 36-hour period in September 1941.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who is Jewish, saidin a tweet at the time that it was "history repeating."

"To the world: What is the point of saying never again for 80 years, if the world stays silent when a bomb drops on the same site of Babyn Yar?" he wrote.

Video

The girl who sang 'Let it Go' in a bomb shelter performs onstage at a benefit in Poland

Posted March 21, 2022 at 11:34 AM EDT

Amelia, the girl whose interpretation of the “Let It Go” from the movie Frozen in a bunker in Kyiv went viral, sang the Ukrainian national anthem Sunday evening during a charity concert held in Lodz, Poland.

The money raised from tickets will support Polish Humanitarian Action, one of Poland’s oldest and most experienced charity foundations, which is supporting victims of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The concert was co-produced and broadcast by TVN Discovery Poland.

Almost 3.5 million people have fled Ukraine since Russia attacked the country more than three weeks ago, according to the United Nations refugee agency. Most have escaped to neighboring Poland, Romania or Moldova, but as the war continues, many are moving farther west.

Correction: A previous version of this story and headline incorrectly said the song Amelia sang in a viral video was "Frozen." She sang "Let It Go" from the movie Frozen.

Disinformation

Ukraine warns Russia's trucker job ads hide a military objective

Posted March 21, 2022 at 11:11 AM EDT
Russia is attempting to hire experienced drivers in Ukraine to move fuel and other material, Ukraine's Center for Countering Disinformation said. It posted an image of an ad recruiting truckers with experience transporting fuel.
Center for Countering Disinformation
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Screenshot by NPR
The Center for Countering Disinformation at the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine warns of a sharp rise in online ads seeking truck drivers.

The online job ads seek truck drivers to transport fuel and other items. Some of them promise work along Ukraine’s border with Russia and Belarus. But Ukraine’s government says the postings are linked to Russia’s military — an attempt to hire local truck drivers who know Ukraine’s roads.

There’s been a sharp rise in online ads for trucker jobs in Ukraine since March 19, according to the Center for Countering Disinformation, part of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council. But anyone who applies could be taken hostage and put into dangerous situations — and possibly be forced to commit crimes against their own country, the agency said.

Warning signs include ads for truckers with experience driving fuel tankers — likely to supply Russian vehicles, the agency said — and refrigerated cargo — likely for moving bodies, it said.

Some of the ads mention working along Ukraine’s borders, or in Georgia or Armenia, but others seek drivers with knowledge of roads within Ukraine, the agency added.

The agency said the ads are part of the Russian military’s attempt by to give new momentum to its invasion, which has been hobbled both by Ukrainian resistance and poor logistical planning.

Star power

Zelenskyy calls to thank Mila Kunis and Ashton Kutcher for their Ukraine fundraiser

Posted March 21, 2022 at 10:49 AM EDT
Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis pose on a red carpet.
Peter Barreras
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Invision/AP
Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis set a total goal of $30 million and pledged to match donations up to $3 million. They announced on Thursday that they had reached their goal, thanks to the support of some 65,000 donors.

In between addressing world leaders, managing his country's defense and maintaining national morale, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy made time this weekend to call one of America's most famous power couples: Mila Kunis and Ashton Kutcher.

Zelenskyy said on Sunday that he spoke with the actors to thank them for raising millions of dollars to help refugees fleeing Ukraine. Kunis — who was born in Ukraine — and Kutcher have raised some $35 million for Flexport and Airbnb, which are providing relief supplies and short-term housing, respectively, to refugees in the region.

"I thanked them on behalf of our people, on behalf of all of us," Zelenskyy said in public remarks, according to an English translation. "This a good result for one couple of our friends in America. And we are working to make the whole world our friends."

He also shared a photo of their video call on Twitter, noting that Kutcher and Kunis were "among the first to respond to our grief" and adding that they "inspire the world."

Kutcher and Kunis started a GoFundMe page earlier this month to support refugee and humanitarian aid efforts on the ground. In it, Kunis describes herself as a proud Ukrainian. She was born in Chernivtski and lived there for nearly a decade before her family came to the U.S.

"While we are witnessing the bravery of Ukrainians, we are also bearing witness to the unimaginable burden of those who have chosen safety," she wrote. "Countless amounts of people have left everything they know and love behind to seek refuge. With nothing but what they could carry, these Ukrainian refugees are in need of housing and supplies right away."

The couple set a total goal of $30 million and pledged to match donations up to $3 million.

They raised $20 million in less than a week. And they announced on Thursday that they had reached their goal, thanks to the support of some 65,000 donors.

"While this is far from a solution for the problem, our collective effort will provide a softer landing for so many people as they forge ahead into their future of uncertainty," they said. "Our work is not done. We will do everything we can to ensure that the outpouring of love that came as a part of this campaign finds maximum impact with those in need."

Funds have already begun to reach Flexport and Airbnb so they can make an immediate impact, they added.

Kunis also urged people not to stop donating to the cause, whether through their fundraiser or to other organizations that support Ukraine. She called this "just the beginning to a very, very, very long journey."

In Mariupol

Mariupol civilians in bomb shelters are running out of food, says a city official

Posted March 21, 2022 at 10:21 AM EDT
A city street with a giant crater in the center and debris strewn.
Evgeniy Maloletka
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AP
It is difficult to get help people in besieged Mariupol because, a mayoral adviser says, "Every minute, we have a Russian attack."

Civilians in Mariupol's bomb shelters are running out of food, an adviser to Mariupol's mayor, Petro Andrushchenko, tells NPR’s Morning Edition.

He said about 2,000 people have been killed so far in Mariupol.

Listen to the interview here or read on for highlights.

On Russia’s call for Mariupol to surrender in exchange for safe passage

All [that] the Russians said, it’s absolutely a lie. They blocked our city, destroy our city and kill our people, so when they said that it’s about a humanitarian corridor or something else, it’s absolutely a lie.

On what is happening in Mariupol

The situation is terrible because all our people must live in bomb shelters without any electricity, without any water, without heating and just without food because our food reserve [is] empty. The Russians tried to block any way for us to get some humanitarian goods for our people.

On Russian attacks on a crowded theater and an arts school

We try to find our people and help them, but in this situation, it’s impossible because every minute, we have a Russian attack and it’s very dangerous for other people who to try to help.

On Russia’s forced evacuation of Ukrainians to Russia

When it happened, our people didn’t know anything about what the destination was when they set this evacuation, our people thought it was to Ukrainian-controlled parts. After that, we know that thousands [of] people were forced to evacuate to a Russian economically depressed city.

On what Mariupol needs from the international community

First of all, we need the closed sky in Ukraine because the most dangerous thing for us is, first of all, is missiles and aircrafts that destroyed more people and ground forces ... We need a real army help from the international community.

Public reaction

Ukrainian students in the U.S. watch a war on their homeland unfold from abroad

Posted March 21, 2022 at 9:58 AM EDT
Three people stand outside in the snow, two wrapped in blue and yellow Ukrainian flags.
Robert Gill
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Dartmouth
Marta Hulievska (center), a freshman at Dartmouth College, is from the southeastern Ukrainian city of Zaporizhzhia.

Some 1,700 Ukrainians are studying in the U.S., according to the most recent data from the Institute of International Education. NPR's Elissa Nadworny spoke to three of them about what it's like watching their home country come under attack from thousands of miles away.

They described constantly scrolling for news and checking in with family members back home, while handling classes and other academic commitments that feel less important under the circumstances.

All three say the conflict feels close to home, even from abroad. And they're all figuring out how to channel their emotions into tangible support for Ukraine, from organizing vigils to sharing resources and information.

"School is one area, but this is ... not of the greatest importance right now," says Tetiana Tytko, a Ph.D. student at the University of Maryland who grew up in western Ukraine. "Going to a protest, raising my voice, raising money, like sharing resources how people can donate — I think that's more important right now than just with exams or, you know, homework."

Read more on each student's experience or listen here.


Tetiana Tytko is taking action

A woman holds a sign reading "I need ammo, not a ride!" in front of a crowd of protesters.
Tetiana Tytko
Tetiana Tytko holds a sign at a protest for Ukraine. She says she's working to help people on the ground and educate those around her.

Tytko, who is originally from Chernivtsi in southwestern Ukraine, says the war has changed her perspective.

"When the war started, I literally stopped having sense of everything that I was doing before," she says. "Like, everything just lost meaning ... because I knew that my family, my friends, they were not safe anymore."

Tytko was in disbelief that some of the footage she saw was coming from Ukraine, not out of a horror movie. Tytko says the streets that are being bombed are the same ones she used to walk on just years ago, adding that the situation is especially painful because she's far away from home and her family.

When Russia first invaded Ukraine in late February, Tytko initially felt disoriented and didn't know what to do. Then she jumped into action.

She went to a protest outside of the White House and got in touch with more Ukrainians. Soon she was packing medical equipment and rescue kits, and compiling fundraising information about how to help Ukrainians.

Tytko, who speaks Russian, is also involved in planning a panel with students from Russia. She says a bunch of international students reached out to her to apologize, expressing their shame and sadness about the conflict.

Tytko says she no longer feels "super helpless" now that she's working to help people on the ground and educate those around her.

"I think even from here, from the U.S., like being so far away from home, I'm still doing everything that I can just to help Ukraine and just support the people to spread awareness," she adds. "I know not all of my friends ... on social media are happy about me constantly posting pictures of people being injured, the buildings being bombed. But this is what's happening. So I'm just trying to raise awareness about the situation."

Vlada Trofiumchuk says she's existing in parallel realities

A woman in a red, blue and white striped shirt and leather jacket smiles while leaning against a wall in front of water.
Vlada Trofimchuk
Vlada Trofimchuk is originally from the Ukrainian city of Sumy and is studying at Colby College in Maine.

Vlada Trofimchuk is a junior studying psychology and German at Colby College in Maine. She and her family are from Sumy, a northeastern city near Russia that has been heavily bombarded. Her parents have relocated to a safer part of the country, though her grandparents are still there.

The war is extremely personal for Trofimchuk. She acknowledges that her classmates may follow the news coming out of Ukraine and empathize with her situation but are then able to "forget about it and go and do their thing, which is not the case for me."

She's figuring out how to navigate the unique position of living in "two realities."

"You don't want to be the person who talks about war all the time because, you know, people still have their own lives," she says. "People still go out and party and enjoy it. And you are in that weird position of, like, how do you fit in this whole picture?"

At the start of the semester — before the war broke out — Trofimchuk was excited to throw herself into her classes. But she says it's nearly impossible to focus on schoolwork now: With the constant barrage of news alerts, every reading and writing assignment takes "three or four times as much as it used to."

Trofimchuk says when she focuses on Ukraine, she feels guilty for letting her academics slip. But the reverse is true, too. If she participates too much in class, for example, she feels guilty for not giving more attention to her country's plight.

"So many people are suffering, so many people are dying. And you are not there. You are the one in safety," she says. "Why are you the one who should be in safety while there are so many other people dying?"

Marta Hulievska is balancing academics and activism

Marta Hulievska is a freshman studying creative writing and government at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. She's originally from the southeastern Ukrainian city of Zaporizhzhia.

Her mother, grandmother and sisters fled to the west of Ukraine when the war started, but her father — who is of fighting age — was forced to stay behind. She says she feels the stress of what they're going through, thousands of miles away.

"This is weird to me because I have never been actually under the bombs," she says. "But, for example, when the snow falls from the roof and I hear the loud sound or just my neighbors are being loud or something, I start getting panicked. And I have to tell myself that I'm in America, nothing is happening in America ... This is some kind of, I don't know, secondhand PTSD."

Hulievska says she wakes up most mornings with an anxiety attack and is only really able to function after she texts both of her parents and checks the news on multiple social media platforms (she makes it a point to shut everything off after 9 p.m.).

She said she feels survivor's guilt for being outside of Ukraine and relatively safe. She started a Ukrainian student association in an effort to feel more helpful, holding fundraisers and panels on campus.

"I don't want to feel like I just escaped the country away while everyone there in Ukraine is fighting for their life right now, you know?" she said.

She says the war has made her own problems seem much less important. The same is true for her coursework.

Hulievska feels that if what she's doing is not "an immediate help to Ukraine ... it's of no use." When the war first started she tried to keep up with her homework, but felt distracted and unproductive.

"I'm taking medieval history right now," she explains. "And I was like, 'How's that relevant to everything that is happening?' I mean that's relevant, of course, because you have to study history to better understand what's going on, but it doesn't feel like immediate help."

Hulievska spoke to NPR during finals period, but had stopped going to classes two weeks earlier. She got extensions and still plans to finish her courses and take her finals. But she says she wants to put whatever energy she has in this moment toward helping Ukraine.

"You cannot live like that forever," she adds. "At some point, you're just going to burn out, and at some point, I will probably have to try to balance out my studies and my activism here on campus. But for now ... I will try to make most out of it."

The audio version of this story was produced by Ian Stewart and edited by Ravenna Koenig, with contributions from Anya Steinberg.

Nuclear concerns

Chernobyl nuclear plant has its 1st shift change since the Russian takeover

Posted March 21, 2022 at 9:37 AM EDT
An operator's arm-chair covered with plastic sits in an empty control room of the 3rd reactor at the Chernobyl nuclear plant, in Chernobyl, Ukraine, on April 20, 2018.
Efrem Lukatsky
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AP
An operator's chair covered with plastic sits in an empty control room of the third reactor at the Chernobyl nuclear plant in 2018.

Roughly half of the staff at the Chernobyl nuclear plant in Ukraine have been allowed to leave and were replaced with other Ukrainian employees for the first time in nearly four weeks, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said on Sunday.

That’s how long Russian forces have been in control of the decommissioned plant since they captured it in late February as part of their larger military invasion of Ukraine.

IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi said that all staff who operate nuclear power plants should be able to make decisions without “undue pressure” and that those who were forced to remain working at Chernobyl did so “under immensely stressful and tiring conditions in the presence of foreign military forces and without proper rest.”

“They deserve our full respect and admiration for having worked in these extremely difficult circumstances,” Grossi added. “They were there for far too long. I sincerely hope that remaining staff from this shift can also rotate soon.”

Chernobyl was the site of a major nuclear accident in 1986. The plant is no longer active, but the spent fuel rods stored on the site could pose a potential local radiation hazard if they aren’t maintained properly.

In early March, Russian forces shelled and ultimately captured the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant in southeastern Ukraine — which is also the largest nuclear plant in Europe. A fire at the plant was eventually extinguished, and the chief of the U.N.'s atomic watchdog said there had been no release of radioactive material.

The IAEA says that eight of the 15 nuclear reactors at Ukraine’s four active nuclear power plants are operating and that radiation levels are normal and safety systems are functioning.

International aid

Convoys of firetrucks are driving to Ukraine to donate the equipment

Posted March 21, 2022 at 9:29 AM EDT
A Greater Manchester Fire And Rescue Service member places a Support Ukraine sticker on the side of a fire engine on Friday, as a convoy of fire trucks prepared to leave for Poland. The emergency vehicles will be donated to Ukraine's firefighting services.
Anthony Devlin
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Getty Images
A Greater Manchester Fire And Rescue Service member places a Support Ukraine sticker on the side of a fire engine on Friday, as a convoy of fire trucks prepared to leave for Poland. The emergency vehicles will be donated to Ukraine's firefighting services.

They may be painted in the colors of their home countries — but they’re carrying Ukraine’s flag: convoys of fire and rescue trucks are driving across Europe toward Ukraine, so the vehicles can be donated to the besieged country’s emergency services.

A large contingent from the U.K. will reach eastern Poland on Monday with 22 vehicles, including 18 fire engines. The convoy is carrying more than 5,000 pieces of equipment, according to organizers. Once they reach their destination, the vehicles will be driven over the border to Ukraine by Polish fire crews, officials said.

“The team rolled out of Wrocław to cheers and smiles” from passersby, Northumberland Fire and Rescue Service said on Monday.

The U.K. relief effort was organized by the country’s National Fire Chiefs Council and FIRE AID, a nonprofit charity. Organizers say they were inundated with offers of help after launching a campaign to gather supplies and equipment and organize volunteers to help Ukraine.

A similar convoy of firetrucks left Portugal last week, driving through Germany on its way to Poland. A firetruck with a trailer full of equipment was also sent from Sweden.

Firefighters from the U.S. and around the world have also been working to help their colleagues in Ukraine, from making online donations to organizing shipments of specialist gear and equipment.

Ukraine’s state emergency services agency said Monday morning that its units made 1,208 emergency trips in the past 24 hours alone, including nearly 300 calls for help because of Russian shelling in civilian areas.

In addition to fighting fires, Ukraine’s emergency services are dealing with unexploded ordinance from Russian attacks, helping to restore electricity at hospitals, setting up shelters and aiding evacuation efforts. It’s also monitoring background radiation in key areas.

On the ground

The EU's last remaining diplomat in hard-hit Mariupol has returned to Greece

Posted March 21, 2022 at 8:35 AM EDT
People stand outside with their bags in front of a blue train.
Bernat Armangue
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AP
Ukrainians escaping from the besieged city of Mariupol, along with other passengers from Zaporizhzhia, gather on a train station platform in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv on Sunday.

The last European Union diplomat in the devastated Ukrainian city of Mariupol has left.

Greek Consul General Manolis Androulakis arrived in Athens on Sunday night and told reporters at the airport that Russia’s unprovoked war against Ukraine is a wound that will be hard to heal.

Mariupol is set to go down in history as “one of those cities totally destroyed by war,” Androulakis said, referencing Grozny in Chechnya, Guernica in Spain, and Aleppo in Syria. “Those who remain there are heroes because they will have to rebuild their lives from scratch.”

Mariupol, a port city on the Azov Sea, has a significant ethnic Greek minority of roughly 100,000 people. Androulakis stayed during Russia’s constant bombing of the city to help evacuate ethnic Greek families.

Russia’s assault on Mariupol has killed at least 2,300 people, some of whom have been buried in mass graves. The Russians have hit homes, schools, shelters and clinics, including a maternity hospital.

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis tweeted last week that Greece will rebuild the maternity hospital.

Androulakis left Mariupol on March 16, joined by at least 10 Greek nationals living in the city. They traveled through Ukraine, Moldova and Romania before reaching Greece, according to the Greek foreign ministry.

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On the ground

Kyiv is under a new curfew after strikes hit shopping center, apartment buildings

Posted March 21, 2022 at 7:48 AM EDT
Kyiv shopping mall burned in attack. UKRAINE-RUSSIA-CONFLICT
Aris Messinis
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AFP via Getty Images
A man walks his bicycle through debris outside the destroyed Retroville shopping mall in a residential district of Kyiv on Monday after a Russian attack on the Ukrainian capital.

Kyiv is going under a curfew from Monday night to Wednesday morning, Mayor Vitali Klitschko said. The new restriction comes after Russian attacks hit a shopping center and several apartment buildings. At least eight people died, Klitschko said.

All residents of the capital will be required to stay home or in shelters from 8 p.m. local time Monday to 7 a.m. Wednesday, the mayor said. And on Tuesday, stores, pharmacies, gas stations and government offices will be closed.

The aerial attack hit the Podilsky district of Kyiv, in the city’s northwest. It destroyed the Retroville mall, a landmark shopping center with stores such as Timberland and H&M. It also had a grocery store, and fitness and business centers. Photos from Monday show much of the building to be burned out by fire.

The mall had shut down on the first day of the war, with only its grocery store still operating at a limited capacity.

The federal prosecutor’s office says it has launched an investigation into the attack as a possible war crime, calling it an act of premeditated murder against a civilian district of Ukraine’s capital.

Mariupol

Ukrainian officials emphatically reject Russia's call to surrender besieged Mariupol

Posted March 21, 2022 at 7:44 AM EDT
A protester holds a handwritten sign reading "Save Mariupol" in red letters.
Alexey Furman
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Ukrainians in Lviv show support for the residents and defenders of Mariupol on Saturday. Ukraine is emphatically rejecting Russia's calls to surrender the strategic southern port city.

Ukraine is emphatically rejecting Russia's calls to surrender the strategic southern port city of Mariupol, which Russian forces have besieged and encircled.

After weeks of bombarding the city, which is filled with civilians trapped in deteriorating conditions, Russia offered the ultimatum on Sunday: If Mariupol surrenders, it will let civilians leave and humanitarian aid enter.

Ukrainian officials have refused, in absolute terms — though Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy told CNN that he is willing to talk to Russian President Vladimir Putin about negotiating an end to the fighting.

🎧 NPR's Tim Mak unpacks the latest onMorning Edition from southwestern Ukraine.

Hard-hit Mariupol will not surrender to Russia

Hundreds of thousands of civilians are trapped in Mariupol, which has no electricity and dwindling supplies of food and water. The city has been the site of at least two bombings of buildings where civilians were seeking shelter: a school and a theater.

Ukrainian officials have so far refused Russia's calls for surrender, with an adviser to the city's mayor even going so far as to use an expletive in a Facebook post rejecting the ultimatum. Ukraine's deputy prime minister told a newspaper that Russia's demands were eight pages of "delusions" and that Russians have taken the people of Mariupol hostage and a surrender is not on the table.

More than 41,000 people have left Mariupol in the past five days, according to its city council, with more evacuations and humanitarian corridors planned for today.

Here's what's happening in the rest of Ukraine:

Odesa is gearing up for a fight

Mak says, in Odesa, "The feeling in the air, in a word, is defiant."

Under normal circumstances, the Black Sea port city would be drawing tourists in with its 19th-century architecture and world-famous opera house and would be bustling with people headed to bars and clubs. But the streets are now blocked off by checkpoints, anti-tank hedgehogsand sandbags, guarded by men with rifles.

Mak says Odesa's mayor has cited a proverb when discussing preparations for a potential attack: If you want peace, be ready for the war. He says the city is ready for that attack. The Ukrainian military also says it's confident they'll be able to repel any assault on the Odesa region, Mak adds.

"NPR was permitted to review some of their defenses during a trip in the last 24 hours, and we observed hardened fighting positions, armored vehicles and mined beaches ready to repel a Russian attempt," Mak says. "But whether that will be enough, we don't yet know."

Ukrainian officials are watching for potential new fronts

Elsewhere in the country, the Russian military remains stalled in the areas around Kyiv and forces still haven't taken control of any major Ukrainian cities.

Mak says Ukrainian officials are on the lookout for new fronts possibly opening, and not just in the south, where Russia's military has been seeing more success. Overnight, the governor of Rivne, a region along Ukraine's northern border with Belarus, announced it had been struck with two missiles.

There has been concern in recent weeks that Russian and even Belarusian troops might open a new front there, Mak explains.

"These strikes in Rivne seem to indicate that the Russian military wants to keep that possibility open, or at least keep Ukrainians thinking so," he adds.