Russia invades Ukraine: Russia says it used a hypersonic missile to hit a munitions warehouse in Ukraine

Published March 19, 2022 at 9:29 AM EDT
Evacuees from Mariupol are seen at a shopping center on the outskirts of the city of Zaporizhzhia, which is now a registration center for displaced people, on Wednesday.
Emre Caylak
AFP via Getty Images
Evacuees from Mariupol crowd a shopping center on the outskirts of the city of Zaporizhzhia, which is now a registration center for displaced people, on Wednesday.

Ukrainian officials confirm that a Russian strike hit a munitions warehouse in western Ukraine. Russia's defense ministry says it used a hypersonic missile in the attack. If confirmed, it would be the first time such a weapon was used in the conflict. In southern Ukraine, 9,000 people have escaped the besieged city of Mariupol, but tens of thousands remain trapped, and Russian forces are stopping much-needed humanitarian aid, Ukraine's president says.

Here's more context to understand the impact of the invasion:

  • The United Nations says nearly a quarter of Ukraine's population is now displaced by the war.
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin's warnings to anti-war Russians have evoked memories of the purges under Stalin.
  • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zalenskyy joins a list of world leaders who helped change U.S. foreign policy, NPR's Ron Elving writes.

Follow the latest developments.

On the ground

Ukraine's military braces for escalating Russian aggression in Kyiv

Posted March 19, 2022 at 4:55 PM EDT

Weeks into Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Russian military forces are still stalled outside Kyiv, and there's growing fear that artillery strikes will grow stronger.

Ukrainian military leaders and government leaders, including President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, remain in the capital city. An adviser to Ukraine's defense minister tells NPR that Ukrainian forces are prepared for escalated Russian aggression.

"We are ready for defense ... every citizen of Kyiv is ready to protect his home, his street, his family," an adviser to Ukraine's defense minister, Markian Lubkivskyi, told NPR's Michel Martin.

Lubkivskyi says more than 200 people, including 60 civilians, have already been killed in Kyiv. He calls the situation "really dramatic" and says the Ukrainian army is "well-prepared."

The U.S. has sent more arms and weapons to aid Ukraine's defense forces, which Lubkivskyi says are being used "very efficiently," but there are still systems Ukrainian forces are asking for.

He added that Ukraine's message to NATO countries is essentially a quote from a speech from British Prime Minister Winston Churchill: "Give us the tools and we'll finish the job."

Ukrainian officials are trying to combat Russian propaganda, which has portrayed Ukrainians as being the aggressors in the war.

"We are protecting our land, we are defending ourselves and this is the signal to the rest of the Russian army: Don't come here. You will lose your life here," he said.

"We are a peaceful nation. We are ready for negotiations, but please stop your army."


As the war in Ukraine unfolds, it's taking a toll on mental health

Posted March 19, 2022 at 4:43 PM EDT

As the Russian invasion of Ukraine hits the one-month mark, the psychological toll on Ukrainian civilians continues to mount.

NPR's Tim Mak spoke with Ukrainians who are battling a range of emotions from guilt to fear — without the coping mechanisms they now no longer have access to.

Even those who have fled are feeling guilty when they know others in their country are not as safe.

"A lot of people that are safe now in relatively safe cities and towns feel that they are not suffering enough," Olena Katola said.

Katola fled Kyiv during the first week of the war and went to live with her family in Ternopil, a city in western Ukraine. She says friends have also experienced similar emotions in the last few weeks.

"We understand that it's OK to flee, to take care of yourself. But we empathize so much with those who still are there that we feel we feel bad for being safe," she said.

With lockdowns and martial law established, the stress relief of regular exercise is out of reach. Yoga studios have closed, and sports teams are not practicing anymore.

"As much as I love to be doing therapy with football, it's impossible in this war," Dale Heffron, who coaches an American football team in Ukraine, said. "Now when it's over, then we'll go right back to it because it is therapeutic."

Florian Seriex, the spokesperson for International Committee of the Red Cross' efforts in Ukraine, said he didn't expect the level of psychological impact he has seen so far in Mariupol, which has been heavily bombarded by Russian forces.

"You can see the psychological impact after spending two weeks running from one shelter to a place where you can collect water or the place where you try to cook some food when there is less fighting," he said.

On the ground

Russia says it used a hypersonic missile in western Ukraine

Posted March 19, 2022 at 3:13 PM EDT

Russia's defense ministry says it used a hypersonic missile to strike a munitions warehouse in western Ukraine on Friday.

If confirmed, it would be the first time such a weapon was used in the conflict.

Ukrainian officials did confirm the strike on the warehouse, and a spokesman for the country's air force wouldn't confirm what type of missile was used.

The spokesman said Ukraine has become a testing ground for Russia's arsenal.

The extent of the damage on the warehouse is being assessed.


Kids fleeing Ukraine are at a higher risk of exploitation, UNICEF says

Posted March 19, 2022 at 2:57 PM EDT

The more than 1.5 million children who have fled conflict-hit Ukraine since Russia invaded last month are at higher risk of falling victim to human trafficking, the group UNICEF warned.

“The war in Ukraine is leading to massive displacement and refugee flows – conditions that could lead to a significant spike in human trafficking and an acute child protection crisis,” Afshan Khan, UNICEF’s regional director for Europe and Central Asia, said. “Displaced children are extremely vulnerable to being separated from their families, exploited, and trafficked. They need governments in the region to step up and put measures in place to keep them safe.”

ZAHONY, HUNGARY - MARCH 17: Refugee children fleeing Ukraine look out the window as they arrive into Hungary via humanitarian trains at Zahony train station on March 17, 2022 in Zahony, Hungary.
Christopher Furlong
Getty Images
Refugee children fleeing Ukraine arrive in Hungary via humanitarian trains at Zahony train station this week

Women and children make up the majority of Ukrainian refugees rushing to other countries, as many men are required to stay behind to fight.

Some of those children are even traveling completely alone. More than 500 unaccompanied children were identified crossing from Ukraine into Romania from Feb. 24 to March 17, UNICEF said. Unaccompanied children are at an even higher risk of traffickers seeking to exploit the chaos hitting Ukraine, the organization says.

Governments must do more to protect the young and vulnerable, Khan said.

“Children fleeing the war in Ukraine need to be screened for their vulnerability as they cross into a neighbouring country,” said Khan. “Every effort should be made to strengthen screening processes at refugee border crossings.”


Russian cosmonauts board the space station wearing blue and yellow, the colors of Ukraine

Posted March 19, 2022 at 2:16 PM EDT
Russian cosmonauts Sergey Korsakov (from left), Oleg Artemyev and Denis Matveyev are seen wearing yellow and blue during a welcome ceremony after arriving at the International Space Station.
Roscosmos via AP
Roscosmos via AP
Russian cosmonauts (from left) Sergey Korsakov, Oleg Artemyev and Denis Matveev are seen wearing yellow and blue during a welcome ceremony at the International Space Station.

Three Russian cosmonauts boarded the International Space Station wearing yellow and blue, in an apparent statement of support for Ukraine. Wearing the colors of the Ukrainian flag has widely been seen as a way to oppose Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

The three cosmonauts, Oleg Artemyev, Denis Matveev and Sergey Korsakov, docked their Soyuz MS-21 spacecraft on Friday. The mission is planned for six months.

In a livestream of the docking, Artemyev was seen wearing an entirely blue spacesuit before entering the station. When they entered through the hatch, all three were wearing yellow spacesuits with blue. The Russian flag was also featured on their spacesuits.

It's not yet clear what message the cosmonauts were trying to send. But when asked about the yellow suits, Artemyev said that every crew chooses their own. "It became our turn to pick a color. But in fact, we had accumulated a lot of yellow material so we needed to use it. So that's why we had to wear yellow," he said, according to The Associated Press.

On the ground

Ukrainian women are volunteering to fight — and history shows they always have

Posted March 19, 2022 at 12:39 PM EDT
Tanya Kobzar stands in front of the Taras Shevchenko Monument in Lviv.
Ryan Kellman
When Ukraine went to war last month, Tanya Kobzar — a 49-year-old mother of two — decided to follow in her grandmother's footsteps and enlist in the army.

LVIV, Ukraine — In the lead-up to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Tanya Kobzar was having nightmares.

"I was waking up in the middle of the night, terrified. I would look at a black-and-white photo of my grandmother, which I have framed on a table," she recalls. "She reminds me of how brave a person can be."

Kobzar's late grandmother was an army medic in World War II. It's become part of the family lore — how brave she was, treating soldiers on the front lines. So when Ukraine went to war again last month, Kobzar — a 49-year-old mother of two — decided to follow in her grandmother's footsteps. She left her office job in health care supply chains and enlisted in the army.

"I did this for my children and for my country," says Kobzar, who's using her military nickname in this NPR interview because she doesn't have permission from her commander to speak to the media.

Under martial law set after Russia invaded, Ukrainian men aged 18 to 60 are prohibited from leaving the country and are encouraged to fight. Women are under no such mandate. Still, many of them have nevertheless taken up arms against the Russians — in this war and in past ones.

Read more about the women fighting in Ukraine.


Sister of a U.S. citizen killed in Ukraine says his family is still awaiting answers

Posted March 19, 2022 at 10:39 AM EDT
Jimmy Hill, a U.S. citizen, was killed in Ukraine this week by a Russian bomb.
Katya Hill
Katya Hill
Jimmy Hill, a U.S. citizen, was killed in Ukraine this week by a Russian bomb.

The family of Jimmy Hill, the U.S. citizen killed in Ukraine this week, is still waiting for answers from the State Department, his sister says.

Katya Hill, his older sister, says the State Department informed the family that her brother was killed in a civilian area in Ukraine by a Russian bomb, but they are still waiting for information on what happened to his body and where his remains are now.

"This has been so hard for us to deal with," Katya Hill said in a news conference with reporters Saturday morning.

Jimmy Hill was in Ukraine to help his partner receive medical care, his sister said. Hill said she could hear bombs in the background the last time she and her brother spoke on the phone three weeks ago. At that time, he was thinking about getting out of Ukraine and helping other families leave as well.

Hill's family said he was standing in a bread line in Chernihiv when the bomb hit. Ukrainian officials said 10 people were killed in that blast on Wednesday.

On the ground

Zelenskyy accuses Russian forces of blocking humanitarian aid

Posted March 19, 2022 at 9:35 AM EDT

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says Russian troops are stopping much-needed humanitarian aid like food and medicine from reaching parts of Ukraine.

In the southern city of Mariupol, which has come under heavy attack from Russian forces, Zelenskyy says tens of thousands of people remain trapped.

He again appealed to Russian President Vladimir Putin for face-to-face talks.

"It's time to meet, time to speak," Zelenskyy said.

The U.N. says about 10 million Ukrainians have been displaced because of the war. The country has just over 44 million people.