War in Ukraine: Eastern Ukraine is bracing for an expected Russian onslaught

Published April 10, 2022 at 9:37 AM EDT
A destroyed apartment building is seen on April 9, 2022 in Borodianka, Ukraine.
Alexey Furman
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AFP via Getty Images
A destroyed apartment building is seen on April 9, 2022 in Borodyanka, Ukraine.

Civilians in eastern Ukraine are racing to flee the region ahead of an expected new offensive by Russian forces following their retreat from the Kyiv region. Meanwhile, in his late-night address to Ukrainians on Saturday, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy warned that Russia's ambitions went beyond Ukraine.

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

  • A growing number of desperate Ukrainians are trying to make it to the United States — and going to great lengths to do so.
  • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Russian aggression "was not intended to be limited to Ukraine alone" and warned that the "entire European project is a target for Russia."
  • Evacuations have resumed in the town of Kramatorsk following a missile strike on a train station that killed at least 52 people, according to Ukrainian officials.

Follow the latest developments.

Chernobyl

Chernobyl holds its first staff rotation in 3 weeks

Posted April 10, 2022 at 4:34 PM EDT
Ukrainian servicemen walk at the Chernobyl nuclear plant, in Chernobyl, Ukraine, Tuesday, April 5, 2022.
Oleksandr Ratushniak
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AP
Ukrainian servicemen walk at the Chernobyl nuclear plant, in Chernobyl, Ukraine, Tuesday, April 5, 2022.

Ukraine just carried out its first staff rotation at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in three weeks, the International Atomic Energy Agency reported.

It was only the second time a staff rotation had occurred at the site of the 1986 nuclear disaster since Russian military forces seized the power plant in late February at the start of the invasion.

The agency said Ukrainian authorities were still recovering from the five-week Russian takeover of the site that ended when Russian forces withdrew on March 31.

For example, the staff that were part of Saturday’s rotation had to get to and from the site by boat via the Pripyat River, which the agency said was the only way for those living in the city of Slavutych outside the exclusion zone to access the power plant.

“While it is very positive that Ukrainian authorities are gradually restoring regulatory control of the Chornobyl site, it is clear that a lot of work remains to return the site to normality,” IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi said in a statement.

Ukrainian officials say Chernobyl’s analytical laboratories for radiation monitoring were destroyed and that analytical instruments were either stolen or disabled, according to the agency. An associated communications center was also looted.

Grossi previously warned that staff at the site were working under high-pressure conditions and needed time off to rest while new staff were brought in to take over.

The last staff changeover occurred in late March, when technical personnel rotated out after working at the site under Russian control for nearly four weeks.

Russian leadership

Russia appoints a new general to oversee the Ukraine invasion

Posted April 10, 2022 at 3:59 PM EDT
Russian President Vladimir Putin is pictured with Gen. Alexander Dvornikov in 2016. Russia has named Dvornikov as commander of the invasion of Ukraine.
Alexei Nikolsky
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Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP
Russian President Vladimir Putin is pictured with Gen. Alexander Dvornikov in 2016. Russia has named Dvornikov as commander of the invasion of Ukraine.

A new Russian general has been appointed to take over the faltering invasion of Ukraine, a U.S. official tells NPR.

Alexander Dvornikov, 60, had been in charge of the southern section of the war, overseeing the brutal assault on Mariupol that hit civilian targets as well as the recent missile strike on a train station in the eastern Donbas region that killed at least 50 people and left more than 100 wounded.

He was the commander of Russian forces in Syria, where they also targeted civilian locations including hospitals, as Russian and Syrian forces loyal to Syrian leader Bashar Assad went after rebels threatening his government rather than the Islamic State.

Analysts say a single commander in Ukraine might be able to provide better command and control over Russian forces, which so far have been plagued by poor planning, logistics problems and a tough Ukrainian defense.

Still, Dvornikov will have his work cut out for him as the main fight focuses on the Donbas because many of the Russian battle groups have been hit hard as they tried to take Kyiv and Chernihiv, with some units losing up to 30% of their combat strength.

Russian losses

Russia is seeking to enlist people previously discharged from military service, U.K. says

Posted April 10, 2022 at 2:08 PM EDT
A Ukrainian serviceman jumps off a destroyed Russian army tank, not far from the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv on April 3, 2022.
Sergei Supinsky
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AFP via Getty Images
A Ukrainian serviceman jumps off a destroyed Russian army tank, not far from the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv on April 3, 2022.

Officials in the U.K. say that Russia, prompted by "mounting losses," is looking to add to the ranks of its military with people discharged from military service since 2012.

That’s according to an intelligence update released by the British Ministry of Defence on Sunday.

The report also claims that Russia is attempting to recruit fighters from the “unrecognised Transnistria region of Moldova.”

It’s unclear exactly how many military losses Russia has suffered during its invasion of Ukraine, but NATO estimated last month that between 7,000 and 15,000 Russian troops had died up to that point in the war.

War crimes

Ukraine’s top prosecutor says there have been 5,600 alleged war crimes

Posted April 10, 2022 at 1:31 PM EDT
Prosecutor General of Ukraine Iryna Venediktova shows pictures during an interview with AFP in western Ukrainian city of Lviv on March 22, 2022.
Aleksey Filippov
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AFP via Getty Images
Prosecutor General of Ukraine Iryna Venediktova shows pictures during an interview with AFP in western Ukrainian city of Lviv on March 22, 2022.

Ukraine’s chief prosecutor says she has uncovered 5,600 cases of alleged war crimes since the Russian invasion and has a list of 500 suspects.

Iryna Venediktova, prosecutor general of Ukraine, said in an interview with Sky News that evidence of the atrocities is everywhere.

“It’s impossible not to know about this. Almost every region in Ukraine was bombed,” Venediktova said. “We have a lot of concrete facts in every region, in every city.”

Among the war crimes, Venediktova said, was the recent Russian bombing of a train station in the city of Kramatorsk, which killed more than 50 people who were attempting to flee the violence. “These people just wanted to save their lives."

Although Venediktova called Russian President Vladimir Putin “the main war criminal of the 21st century,” he is not on her list of suspects.

That's because presidents, prime ministers and ministers of foreign affairs typically have some degree of immunity from international war crimes prosecutions, she said.

If he were to leave his position, or if the prosecutor at the International Criminal Court decided to charge him, Putin may be vulnerable to prosecution, Venediktova added.

World leaders, including President Biden, have called Putin a “war criminal” for the horrific images of violence and accounts of human rights abuses emerging from the war in Ukraine.

But it’s unclear if Putin would ever face an international war crimes trial for his role in the conflict, since such prosecutions face an array of obstacles. Even when they do happen, they can take years to conclude.

Satellite images show an 8-mile Russian military convoy in northeastern Ukraine

Posted April 10, 2022 at 1:14 PM EDT
 The northern end of the convoy is seen traveling through the northeastern Ukrainian town of Velykyi Burluk.
Maxar Technologies
The northern end of the convoy is seen traveling through the northeastern Ukrainian town of Velykyi Burluk.

A large military convoy that stretched at least eight miles was seen traveling through the northeastern Ukrainian town of Velykyi Burluk, about 60 miles from Kharkiv, this past Friday.

The imagery collected by the company Maxar Technologies on Friday shows hundreds of vehicles, including armored vehicles, trucks with towed artillery and support equipment. A researcher with the Institute for the Study of War says the convoy is of Russian forces.

 Another view shows the 8-mile-long military convoy.
Maxar Technologies
Another view shows the 8-mile-long military convoy.

Maxar said the convoy was moving south toward the country’s Donbas region, where Russia is expected to soon launch a major offensive following its retreat from around Kyiv.

In late February, Maxar captured images of a 40-mile-long Russian military convoy traveling toward the capital Kyiv.

The southern end of the convoy in northeastern Ukraine.
Maxar Technologies
The southern end of the convoy in northeastern Ukraine.

The future of NATO

NATO will build up its military presence on its eastern flank to guard against Russia

Posted April 10, 2022 at 10:32 AM EDT
NATO General Secretary Jens Stoltenberg speaks during a press conference at the NATO headquarters in Brussels on April 5, 2022.
Francois Walschaerts
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AFP via Getty Images
NATO General Secretary Jens Stoltenberg speaks during a press conference at the NATO headquarters in Brussels on April 5, 2022.

NATO military commanders are working on plans to station a full-scale fighting force on the alliance’s eastern flank to guard against any future Russian invasion, the organization’s head said in an interview.

Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, speaking to theTelegraph, suggested the move will be part of a major “reset” for the alliance, which has been tested in the wake of Russia’s military invasion of Ukraine.

Stoltenberg said the current military presence along NATO’s eastern border — what he called a small “tripwire” presence — would be replaced with a force large enough to “repel an attempted invasion of member states such as Estonia and Latvia,” the Telegraph reported.

Ukraine is not a member of NATO, and Russian President Vladimir Putin has accused the alliance of breaking promises to Moscow by expanding eastward. Russia has demanded that Ukraine not be permitted to join the organization.

NATO has been providing major military support to Ukraine amid its efforts to defend itself, and Russia’s invasion of the country has prompted other European nations including Sweden and Finland to consider joining NATO.

The humanitarian crisis

A Doctors Without Borders doctor discusses helping transfer patients in Ukraine

Posted April 10, 2022 at 9:47 AM EDT
Firefighters spray water on a destroyed shoe factory following an airstrike in Dnipro on March 11, 2022.
Emre Caylak
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AFP via Getty Images
Firefighters spray water on a destroyed shoe factory following an airstrike in Dnipro on March 11, 2022.

Patients in a Ukrainian hospital getting treatment for an illness or those who are injured in the fighting can’t always be cared for in an area with active hostilities. Sometimes they need to be transferred to a safer location for further care.

Dr. Joanne Liu of Doctors Without Borders is among the medical staff deciding who can be transferred for higher-level medical treatment and helping those patients make the grueling journey safely.

“The basic idea is to take patients who come from closer to where they have been military operations, and where their hospital had been a bit overcapacitated by the influx of patients who were injured,” Liu toldWeekend Edition Sunday, “and we bring them to a place where they’re going to continued to be cared [for] but in a safer place.”

Liu, who spoke from the eastern Ukrainian city of Dnipro, recounted the story of one child who had suffered a blast injury and was potentially too unstable to move.

“The mother, you know, at the start, she just said, ‘I think my child is too sick to be transferred,’” Liu said. Medical staff decided to postpone the transfer, and the case remains ongoing.

In another instance, a child who had fled Mariupol was being treated for fractured limbs. Both the child and the child’s mother pleaded with doctors to transfer the child for treatment. Liu agreed, and the transfer went ahead.

“So sometimes, you know, there are some stories that are better than others,” she said.

Liu added that the vast majority of doctors and other medical staff caring for patients in Ukraine are Ukrainian. “They are so strong and so resilient,” she said. “They’re doing an amazing, amazing job.”