War in Ukraine: Russian strike devastates a maternity hospital in Mariupol, Zelenskyy says

Published March 9, 2022 at 7:53 AM EST
A car burns at the side of the maternity hospital damaged by shelling in Mariupol, Ukraine, on Wednesday.
Evgeniy Maloletka
A car burns at the side of the maternity hospital damaged by shelling in Mariupol, Ukraine, on Wednesday.

"People, children are under the wreckage. Atrocity!" the president tweeted. The port city's deputy mayor also said Russia's military had violated a cease-fire meant to allow civilians to evacuate.

Here's what we're following today:

Russian forces violate a cease-fire: Mariupol's deputy mayor says about 1,200 civilians have been killed in his city in the past two weeks.

Chernobyl site under stress: Ukraine's nuclear agency said the site lost power, and generators only have enough fuel for 48 hours.

Harris to Poland: The vice president travels to Eastern Europe one day after the Pentagon rejected Poland's offer to share its fighter jets with Ukraine.

Pentagon says it does not support the transfer of Polish fighter jets to Ukraine

Posted March 9, 2022 at 4:57 PM EST

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said the United States does not support the transfer of Poland’s MiG fighter jets to Ukraine.

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has conveyed this to his Polish counterpart, Defense Minister Mariusz Blaszczak.

While Ukraine wants the aircraft Poland is offering, Kirby said the U.S. assessed that they were “not likely to significantly” add to Ukraine’s defenses. Kirby said such a transfer “may be seen as escalatory,” and such an operation was considered “high risk.”

On Tuesday: Poland announced that it wanted to send the fighter jets to the U.S. airbase in Ramstein, Germany, where the planes could then be rebranded as NATO aircraft and sent to Ukraine. U.S. officials said they were not consulted in advance.

The Pentagon said it does not object to a sovereign country such as Poland making its own arrangements with Ukraine. However, Kirby said the U.S. didn’t think it was a good idea for the U.S. to be part of the chain of custody.

Must See

A man in a bird suit handing out sweets greeted some families fleeing Ukraine to Slovakia

Posted March 9, 2022 at 4:34 PM EST
A man dressed in a bird costume gives out sweets to refugees fleeing Ukraine on March 9 at the Velke Slemence border crossing in Slovakia, about 125 miles southwest of Lviv, Ukraine. More than 2.1 million people have fled Ukraine into neighboring countries since Russia launched a large-scale invasion of the country on February 24.
Christopher Furlong
Getty Images
A man dressed in a bird costume gives out sweets to refugees fleeing Ukraine on March 9 at the Velke Slemence border crossing in Slovakia, about 125 miles southwest of Lviv, Ukraine.

At the Veľké Slemence border crossing in Slovakia on Wednesday, a man in a bird costume handed out candy to arriving children fleeing the war in Ukraine, according to photographer Christopher Furlong who snapped the image.

More than 2.1 million people have left Ukraine since Russia launched its invasion of the country, according to a tracker from the U.N. refugee agency, most of them women and children. Across the borders, massive operations have sprung up to offer refugees shelter, services and comfort. The children, who make up half of the refugees according to UNICEF, are a particular focus.

Inna Grynova, who left Ukraine with her niece, her sister-in-law, and her sister-in-law's mother, wrote that as soon as their train crossed into Poland, "volunteers immediately start throwing water, cookies, candy and various treats for the children through the windows. There were even a couple of toys."

As children began arriving last week in Poland, NPR's Lauren Frayer caught up with Jarosław Perzyński, who had traveled hours from Sierpca, Poland, where he's the mayor, to deliver toys.

UN leaders are urging neighboring countries to put additional resources toward keeping track of unaccompanied children leaving Ukraine and making sure they're placed with safe temporary caregivers, including kids being evacuated from Ukrainian boarding schools, orphanages and other institutional care.

At least 516 civilians have been killed in Ukraine, the U.N. says

Posted March 9, 2022 at 4:07 PM EST

At least 516 civilians have been killed in Ukraine since the start of Russia's invasion, the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said on Wednesday.

The organization said at least 908 people were injured. The numbers cover the time between the start of Russia's invasion on Feb. 24 and March 8.

OHCHR emphasized that the real figures of the exact casualties are "considerably higher," specifically in areas controlled by the Ukrainian government.

Most of the civilian casualties recorded by OHCHR were caused by the use of "explosive weapons with a wide impact area," including shelling from heavy artillery and multi-launch rocket systems in addition to missile and airstrikes, officials say.


Russia confirms an unwelcome presence among its forces in Ukraine: young conscripts

Posted March 9, 2022 at 1:56 PM EST

Russia on Wednesday formally acknowledged that conscripts were taking part in what the Kremlin calls its “special military operation” in Ukraine — contradicting direct assurances by President Vladimir Putin that only experienced officers and contract soldiers were taking part in the mission.

“Unfortunately, several cases have been discovered in which army recruits from the Russian armed forces took part” in the mission, said Russian Defense Ministry spokesperson Igor Konashenkov, in a statement acknowledging the error. “Almost all have since been removed to Russian territory."

Konashenkov added that several conscripts had been part of a battalion taken captive.

“At the current time, we’re taking all possible steps to exclude conscripts from taking part in military actions and to free those captured,” he said.

The admission follows repeated claims by Ukrainian forces that they had captured young Russian recruits amid the fighting. Unconfirmed videos shared online have shown confused young Russian soldiers denouncing the Kremlin campaign. The videos could not be independently verified.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov, speaking to reporters on Wednesday, blamed the presence of inexperienced young conscripts on insubordination in the ranks, saying that Putin had issued an order to “categorically exclude” any recruits in Ukraine.

“President Putin was informed that that order had been fulfilled,” Peskov said, adding that military prosecutors would investigate and “punish” those who had failed to fulfill orders.

In recent years, Putin has overseen reforms to Russia's armed forces that touted a reduction in the use of conscripts in favor of an elite fighting force.


Russian troops haven't made significant progress toward Kyiv in 24 hours: U.S. official

Posted March 9, 2022 at 1:05 PM EST
Barricades stand in an empty city square against a gray sky.
Felipe Dana
Barricades partially block the main road in front of the Maidan Square, nearly empty during an air raid alarm in Kyiv, Ukraine, on Wednesday.

A senior U.S. defense official says Russian forces have made "moderate progress" toward some cities in the past 24 hours.

The official cited Kharkiv, in northeastern Ukraine, where Russia has advanced about 12 miles since Tuesday. But the Russians are still meeting stiff Ukrainian resistance.

Their forces also advanced on the southern city of Mikolaiv and now are about 10 miles away. Again, the Russians continue to face resistance, the official said.

Russian troops have not made any significant progress toward Kyiv in the past 24 hours.

Poland’s announcement on Tuesday that it would fly MIGs to the Ramstein air base in Germany, and then they could be flown to Ukraine “was not coordinated with the Department of Defense,” the official said.

Shortly after Poland made the announcement, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby put out a statement Tuesday evening saying the plan was “not tenable.” That remains the U.S. position.

The U.S. says that if a sovereign state wants to talk with Ukraine about providing military assistance, it is free to do so. The U.S. respects that process, the official said.

The official also noted that Russia now has air defense systems that cover virtually all of Ukraine’s airspace.

“Almost all of Ukraine is covered by one, or more than one, Russian air defense system,” the official said.


Players of this popular Russian video game are feeling the effects of the ruble's collapse

Posted March 9, 2022 at 12:01 PM EST
A man walks past a currency exchange office in central Moscow on February 28.
Alexander Nemenov
AFP via Getty Images
A man walks past a currency exchange office in central Moscow on Feb. 28.

Many people and companies are feeling the economic impacts of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and resulting sanctions. But players of the popular Russian video game Escape from Tarkov are also finding it harder to make progress because of the game’s ties to real-world currencies and exchange rates.

The Russian ruble has tumbled significantly since the start of the invasion and resulting sanctions from much of the Western world. As of Wednesday, the ruble is worth about 0.8 of a penny.

This has caused trouble for players of Escape from Tarkov, where the ruble is the default currency. The drop in value has left some players wondering what happened and others realizing the game’s real-world ties, with different questions popping up on the Escape From Tarkov subreddit.

One player noted the rising exchange rate on Reddit and asked what was behind it. The question prompted some stark answers.

"The war in Ukraine has lowered the purchasing power of the rouble. This is realism," one user wrote.

Another said that it's likely only the beginning: "There is a war and sanctions in place. Life in tarkov is going to get alot harder."

The game also uses U.S. dollars, euros and bitcoins. But, as Vice’s Motherboard reported, depending on what players had on hand before the ruble’s collapse, they may find it hard to buy supplies and nearly impossible to complete quests with in-game characters who are designed to only deal in non-ruble currencies.

On the ground

A direct hit from Russia’s military devastates a maternity hospital in Mariupol, Zelenskyy says

Posted March 9, 2022 at 11:41 AM EST

Russian forces carried out a “direct strike” on a maternity hospital in Mariupol, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on Wednesday.

“People, children are under the wreckage. Atrocity!” the president said, in a tweetthat included video footage that he said was from the hospital. “How much longer will the world be an accomplice ignoring terror?”

The video posted by Zelenskyy shows a series of brightly painted rooms with their floors littered with broken glass and debris from chunks of drywall that were blown apart. In one room, a tiny pink changing pad still sat atop its table, with supplies tucked underneath. Small mattresses and what looks to be a crib were also splayed on the floor.

The footage did not show anyone who was injured, although a trail of blood was seen in one area. A sequence focusing on the scene outside shows at least one small fire burning, amid several burned-out vehicles. Parts of trees were apparently snapped off. The hospital building's windows were blown out; its facade lay in tatters on the ground.

The Mariupol City Council posted the same video to its Telegram channel, along with other scenes of the devastation — including a crater in the hospital's courtyard.

News of the attack in Mariupol emerged after the port city’s deputy mayor said Russia’s military had violated a temporary cease-fire, firing on evacuation points that were meant to help civilians reach safety.

Deputy Mayor Serhiy Orlov said around 1,200 civilians were killed in Mariupol since Russia launched its invasion two weeks ago, forcing the city to use mass graves to dispose of the high number of bodies, as NPR’s Lauren Frayer reported. He compared living conditions under Russian siege to living in medieval times.

Some 200,000 people want to flee Mariupol, but only a tiny fraction have been able to do so, Orlov said.

Official response

Many high-placed Russians were surprised by the war, and the sanctions, a news site reports

Posted March 9, 2022 at 11:04 AM EST
A family walks along Red Square in central Moscow on March 9, 2022.
Getty Images
It was not just everyday Russians in Moscow and across the country who were taken aback when their government launched war on Ukraine.

Some of Russia's top officials say they had no clue that President Vladimir Putin was set to unleash a full-scale war against Ukraine -- leaving them whipsawed by harsh sanctions over the invasion. That’s according to the independent Russian news site Meduza, which cites interviews with sources close to the government and Putin’s administration.

The report comes as Russia eclipsed Iran this week as the most heavily sanctioned nation in the world. The market data firm Statista says 5,581 sanctions are aimed at Russia as of Tuesday, compared with 3,616 active sanctions against Iran.

“Nobody was anticipating anything like this,” a source said, according to Meduza. “We trained for some stressful scenarios, but nothing at this level. We were counting on relatively soft sanctions.”

Russia recently enacted a suite of laws meant to control information about the war in Ukraine, threatening anyone who “discredits” its military with prison time and other penalties. One of those laws also makes it a crime to call for sanctions against Russia.

For some officials, the invasion quickly triggered thoughts of resigning their positions, Meduza reports. But its sources say the idea of resignation quickly became impossible.

“Resigning right now would be seen as trying to escape. And for that, they’ll shoot you,” one source was quoted saying.

A Kremlin political strategist told Meduza that the war has created a shift in demand for personnel -- away from technocrats and toward “ultra-patriotic” people.

Meduza operates out of Latvia and is run by journalists who formerly lived in Russia. It relies on crowdfunding donations to survive. Russia declared the site to be a foreign agent last year.

Grab your tissues

Watch a young girl sing 'Let It Go' in a Kyiv air raid shelter

Posted March 9, 2022 at 10:45 AM EST

This is the heartwarming moment a young Ukrainian girl sang "Let It Go" from Disney’s Frozen to locals in an air raid shelter as bombs rained down on Kyiv.

The youngster named Amelia was jittery before her first performance in front of a crowd, but gathered her courage with the help of Marta Smekhova, a local who stopped by to check on people in the shelter.

Video from last Thursday shows Amelia belting her heart out while singing her own rendition of the iconic song. The shelter’s occupants, who had earlier been busy, were all silenced and mesmerized by the young singer’s makeshift recital, with some taking out their phones to record the touching moment.

After the song, the audience burst into applause as Amelia shyly looked around her.

Just In
On the ground

Mariupol official says Russian forces fired on evacuation points, breaching the cease-fire

Posted March 9, 2022 at 10:34 AM EST
A damaged building sits beneath a bare tree.
Evgeniy Maloletka
An apartment building is destroyed by shelling in Mariupol, Ukraine, on Monday.

The deputy mayor of the southern Ukrainian port city of Mariupol is accusing Russian forces of firing on evacuation points and violating a temporary cease-fire.

He says that about 1,200 civilians have been killed in his city in the past two weeks and that some are being buried in mass graves. Electricity, water and sewage lines have been cut. When construction crews tried to repair power lines, Russian forces fired on them, he alleges.

“It’s like medieval times. The only way to cook food is on an open fire,” deputy mayor Serhiy Orlov told reporters on a Zoom call. Residents are melting snow for water, he added. The city’s main gas line was bombed two days ago.

Earlier Wednesday, Russian and Ukrainian officials confirmed that Russian forces had agreed to pause attacks to allow civilians to flee through six humanitarian corridors. One of those was supposed to flow out of Mariupol.

Three evacuation points were arranged this morning, Orlov says.

“Within an hour, these sites were fired on,” he told reporters. “No humanitarian corridor was allowed today.”

Some 200,000 people are trying to leave Mariupol, but Orlov says only a few thousand people have been able to leave per day. Civilian vehicles have been unable to leave for five days, Orlov says.

“Every time, they [Russian forces] mine the road, put in a checkpoint or shell the road,” he said. “These are the darkest of times.”

World response

Congress more than doubles the original amount of Ukraine aid in a bipartisan deal

Posted March 9, 2022 at 10:25 AM EST
Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., listens as Senate Majority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill on Tuesday
Evan Vucci
Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., listens as Senate Majority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill on Tuesday.

House and Senate leaders say they have reached an agreement on a spending package that would fund the government through the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30 and provide a separate $13.6 billion in emergency support for Ukraine.

The Ukraine aid is divided between humanitarian aid, defense assistance for Ukraine and U.S. allies working to defend Ukraine, and economic assistance—including money for cybersecurity and efforts to counter disinformation. The overall size of the emergency aid more than doubled over the course of the past several weeks as the severity of the fighting and humanitarian crisis in Ukraine grew. The House is set to vote on the legislation as soon as Wednesday, and it may take several more days before a Senate vote.

More than $4 billion has been allocated to assist people who have been displaced within Ukraine and the estimated 2 million people who have fled the country since the war began just two weeks ago. The bulk of that funding, about $2.65 billion, will be managed by the U.S. Agency for International Development, which will be tasked with providing food and health care support. Another $1.4 billion will be allocated to other migration and refugee assistance.

The defense section includes $3 billion to support the U.S. military’s European Command, one of 11 geographic divisions of the U.S. military. Appropriators say the funding will be used for “operations mission support, the deployment of personnel to the region, and intelligence support.” Another $650 million will be used for a program within the Department of Defense known as Foreign Military Financing. The program provides partner nations with either grants or direct loans. The legislation also gives President Biden an additional $3 billion to transfer defense equipment to Ukraine and other allies supporting Ukraine.

The economic assistance package is a relatively smaller portion of the funding, with about $1.8 billion for the broadly defined purpose of responding to the economic needs in Ukraine and neighboring countries, including energy and cybersecurity.

Lawmakers say the separate spending bill also includes military spending increases that would have been impossible without a broad agreement on the funding for the entire federal government. Absent an agreement, lawmakers would have been forced to extend current funding levels for the federal government. The new spending bill includes a $782 billion, or 5.6%, increase in defense spending, along with $730 billion in new funding for nondefense spending, a 6.7% increase.

Picture Show
On the ground

Hundreds gathered to mourn the first of Ukraine's fallen soldiers to return home

Posted March 9, 2022 at 10:15 AM EST
A lien of soldiers and priests walks through a chapel, holding crosses and a photograph of a soldier.
Claire Harbage
Soldiers and priests walk into the Church of the Most Holy Apostles Peter and Paul on Tuesday in downtown Lviv, Ukraine, carrying a cross and an image of Ivan Koverznev, a Ukrainian lieutenant who was killed by Russian forces on March 2.

The first of Ukraine's fallen soldiers are starting to return home.

At a Ukrainian Greek Catholic church in the country's western city of Lviv, which has so far been spared the worst of Russia's invasion, hundreds gathered Tuesday to receive the bodies of 44-year-old Viktor Dudar and 24-year-old Ivan Koverznev.

Dudar was a journalist-turned-soldier. Koverznev was a lieutenant. Both men were killed by Russian forces a week into the invasion.

➡️ Click here to read more, listen to the story and see the rest of the moving photos.


The U.S. is waging an economic war against Russia, the Kremlin says

Posted March 9, 2022 at 10:07 AM EST
Customers stand in front of a Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) fast food kiosk in Evroreisky (European) shopping mall in Moscow. A number of international companies have halted business operations in Russia over its invasion of Ukraine. The Kremlin says harsh sanctions amount to an economic war against Russia.
-/AFP via Getty Images
AFP via Getty Images
Customers stand in front of a Kentucky Fried Chicken kiosk in the Evroreisky shopping mall in Moscow, on Feb. 24, the first day of the invasion.

The U.S. response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine amounts to an economic war, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Wednesday.

"The U.S., undoubtedly, declared an economic war against Russia and they are waging this war. Yes, de facto this is exactly what it is," Peskov said, according to state-run Tass media. Harsh sanctions imposed by the U.S., EU and others have severely disrupted Russia’s economy, as it continues to carry out wide-scale attacks in Ukraine.

The sanctions focus on key sectors of Russia's economy, such as energy, banking and aviation. In recent days, a growing number of companies — including McDonald's, Coca-Cola and Yum Brands — have also halted business operations in Russia.

Peskov, who said last November that reports of a looming Russian invasion of Ukraine were “hollow and unfounded,” made his latest comments after a U.S. official predicted that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war against Kyiv will end in failure.

“The way this conflict will end is when Putin realizes that this adventure has put his own leadership standing at risk -- with his own military, with his own people,” Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland said in congressional testimony. Putin is “hemorrhaging” the lives of Russians in Ukraine, she added, saying the Russian public might act against the president if he doesn’t change course.

“But from the U.S. perspective, the endgame is the strategic defeat of President Putin in this adventure,” Nuland added.

When asked how Moscow will avoid that outcome, Peskov offered no details, saying the Kremlin will do "what in the best way corresponds to our interests."


As gas prices surge, here are some tips for getting the most out of your tank

Posted March 9, 2022 at 9:29 AM EST
A person in a blue hoodie pumps gas into a blue car, in front of a sign with prices reading $4.39 and $5.09.
Gene J. Puskar
A man pumps gas at a Giant Eagle GetGo in Mount Lebanon, Pa., on Monday.

Global crude oil prices have been on the rise following Russia's invasion of Ukraine, with U.S. gas prices hitting a new national record on Tuesday.

As NPR's Camila Domonoske reported: "The average cost of a gallon of regular fuel is now $4.173, according to AAA, after jumping 55 cents in the last week alone. That's the highest ever recorded, not accounting for inflation, surpassing the $4.114 high-water mark set in the summer of 2008. (That would be about $5.37 in today's dollars.)"

Also on Tuesday, President Biden announced a ban on Russian oil imports (the U.K. also said it would phase out Russian oil imports by the end of 2022, and European Union officials announced a proposal to cut Russian gas imports by two-thirds this year).

Biden acknowledged the move could drive up crude and gasoline costs in the U.S. and pledged to do everything in his power to minimize the impact on Americans' wallets.

"Defending freedom is going to cost," he said. "It's going to cost us as well in the United States."

With that in mind, check out these tips for maximizing your miles per gallon, courtesy of AAA, State Farm and GasBuddy.

  • Avoid high speeds. As your speed increases, so too does your aerodynamic drag — for most vehicles, State Farm says, mileage decreases exponentially above 50 miles per hour. Experts recommend staying at or below the speed limit, driving at a consistent rate of speed and using cruise control on longer journeys.
  • Combine short trips. Warm engines run more efficiently than cold ones, so experts advise running multiple errands at once rather than making shorter, separate trips from a cold start.
  • Keep your tires properly inflated. In addition to being safer, properly inflated tires can last longer and improve your gas mileage by more than 3% per tire, AAA says. Keep your tire air pressure at the level recommended by your vehicle manufacturer and check them at least once a month, when they're cold — AAA recommends doing so in the morning after your car has been idle overnight. Plus, State Farm recommends having your tires rotated every 5,000 to 8,000 miles to evenly distribute wear and tear.
  • Cut down on the A/C, and keep windows closed. Running your car's air conditioner puts extra load on its engine, which GasBuddy says uses about 20% more fuel (the defrost position on most vehicles also uses the A/C, it notes). AAA recommends cutting the A/C five minutes before you reach your destination and parking in the shade or a garage. Also, keep your windows and moon roof closed when traveling at highway speeds to reduce drag.
  • Don't accelerate or brake too hard. GasBuddy says applying "slow steady acceleration and braking" can increase your fuel economy by as much as 20%. What does that actually look like? State Farm's advice: As you approach a stop sign or traffic light, take your foot off the gas earlier and let your car downshift before braking. AAA also suggests accelerating only before you reach a hill, not while you're on it.
  • Lighten your load. Extra weight in the car creates a drag on the engine and consumes extra gas, so it's worth taking the time to remove unnecessary items — like extra tires, car seats and sandbags in the spring — from your trunk and back seat.
  • Avoid idling. Idling (or leaving the engine running while the vehicle isn't moving) uses more fuel than restarting the engine, according to State Farm. AAA says idling burns 1 gallon of gas per hour. Turn your car completely off to save fuel and cut down on emissions.
  • Get your car serviced regularly. Experts say routine maintenance will help your car run more efficiently. Regular tuneups and inspections can help you avoid and fix problems like dirty air filters, old spark plugs, low fluid levels, bent wheels, bad shocks and broken springs. Also, waxing the outside of your car can increase your mileage. Your vehicle's owner's manual should include recommended maintenance intervals.

AAA also has some advice for your next trip to the pump:

  • Avoid overfilling your tank — stop at the first "click" of the fuel nozzle.
  • Make sure the gas cap clicks three times after you're done filling up, to prevent fuel from vaporizing.
  • Keep in mind that gas stations near major highways often charge more for gas because of their overhead costs. Fill up at your local station before a road trip. And to save money, choose self-service when possible and pay in cash if there's a credit card fee.
  • If you work from home or have flexible hours, try to get gas and run your errands when the roads will be less crowded.

Of course, there are other things you can do to cut down on per-person fuel consumption, for the benefit of your wallet as well as the environment — like walking, taking public transportation and buying a fuel-efficient vehicle.
Experts also recommend sharing a ride with friends or colleagues who are heading in the same direction, and splitting the cost of gas. And, if you're making multiple stops in one general area, consider parking in one place and walking between them.

Editor's note: State Farm is a supporter of NPR Music's Tiny Desk Contest.

World response

China is sending Ukraine’s Red Cross about $791,400 worth of aid

Posted March 9, 2022 at 8:45 AM EST
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian takes a question at a media briefing in Beijing in 2020.
Greg Baker
AFP via Getty Images
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian takes a question at a media briefing in Beijing in 2020.

China announced a shipment of aid to Ukraine to help the country cope with the full-scale invasion being carried out by Russia — a frequent partner of the Chinese Communist Party regime. The aid, worth around $791,400, includes food and other daily necessities and comes from China’s Red Cross Society, the Chinese foreign ministry said Wednesday.

“The first shipment has left Beijing on March 9 and will be delivered to the Ukrainian Red Cross Society” as soon as possible, foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said during a press briefing.

Zhao reiterated China’s stance against imposing economic sanctions on Russia as the U.S., EU and many others have done, saying the measures “lead to a lose-lose situation” that harms economies and deepens divides.

China will not interrupt its normal trade in gas and oil with Russia, Zhao said.

Despite the growing wave of international condemnation against Russia for its war on Ukraine, China’s foreign ministry said earlier this week that its relationship with Russia remains “rock solid” — echoing language the Biden administration used last October to affirm U.S. solidarity with Taiwan.

International Dispatch

Israel will offer temporary refuge for 25,000 non-Jewish Ukrainians until the war ends

Posted March 9, 2022 at 8:26 AM EST
A child looks out at a tarmac in front of a plane. Behind him, people can be seen looking for strollers.
Maya Alleruzzo
A Ukrainian child waits as adults look for their strollers upon arrival to Israel at Ben Gurion Airport.

JERUSALEM — Israel says it will provide temporary refuge to 25,000 non-Jewish Ukrainian citizens, while Israel's prime minister continues mediation efforts with the leaders of Russia ad Ukraine.

Some 20,000 Ukrainians were already in Israel prior to the war and 2,000 have arrived since then. Israel says it will accept 3,000 more. These non-Jewish Ukrainians may work in Israel, but they must promise to leave when the war is over.

At the same time, Israel is preparing for as many as 100,000 new immigrants from Ukraine and Russia -- those who have Jewish family ties and qualify for Israeli citizenship.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett spoke again Tuesday with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and also with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Bennett met Putin at the Kremlin last week, the first leader to mediate with the Russian president in person since Putin ordered the invasion of Ukraine.

On the ground

Ukrainian first lady Olena Zelenska says Russia is waging a mass murder of Ukrainian civilians

Posted March 9, 2022 at 8:11 AM EST
Olena Zelenska (center right), wife of Ukrainian's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, says Russia's invasion of her country amounts to mass murder of civilians. She's seen here last month, walking with Emine Erdogan, wife of Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in Kyiv.
Ukrainian Presidential Press Office
Olena Zelenska (center right), wife of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, says Russia's invasion of her country amounts to mass murder of civilians. She's seen here last month, walking with Emine Erdogan, wife of Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in Kyiv.

“When Russia says that it is 'not waging war against civilians,' I call out the names of these murdered children first,” Ukrainian first lady Olena Zelenska said, in an open letter that was published Tuesday night.

Zelenska wrote out what she calls “my testimony from Ukraine,” after being flooded with requests for interviews in the two weeks since Russia invaded her country with tanks, warplanes and other forces — a turn of events that she said was “impossible to believe.”

“Perhaps the most terrifying and devastating of this invasion are the child casualties,” she said. “Eight-year-old Alice who died on the streets of Okhtyrka while her grandfather tried to protect her. Or Polina from Kyiv, who died in the shelling with her parents. Fourteen-year-old Arseniy was hit in the head by wreckage and could not be saved because an ambulance could not get to him on time because of intense fires.”

The first lady described babies born in bomb shelters and elderly people being cut off from their support systems. She spoke of the sadness of leaving whole lives behind in a new national emergency.

“After all, despite all this horror, Ukrainians do not give up,” she said, praising those resisting the Russian force and others for providing humanitarian aid.

“I appeal to you, dear media: Keep showing what is happening here and keep showing the truth,” she said.

Zelenska also reiterated calls for a no-fly zone over the country. It's urgent to stop Russian President Vladimir Putin, she said, because no one knows what other country might come under attack next.


Harris heads to Poland after the U.S. rejects its fighter jet proposal

Posted March 9, 2022 at 8:06 AM EST
A fighter jet flies over blue water against a pink sky.
Nicolas Tucat
AFP via Getty Images
A Rafale jet fighter of the French Air Force patrols the air space over Poland on Friday.

Vice President Harris begins a trip today to Poland and Romania in a show of U.S. support for Ukraine and Eastern European NATO allies.

And they'll certainly have much to discuss — including Poland's surprise proposal to send fighter jets to the Ukrainian military, which the Pentagon publicly rejected Tuesday night.

Here's the short version: Poland wants to send its old jets to Ukraine, whose pilots fly similar ones. While there's support for that plan, questions remain about how to carry it out without making NATO nations an official party to the war with Russia.

Poland had previously proposed a plan in which it would send its aircraft to Ukraine, and then the U.S. would backfill those with its own F-16 fighter jets.

But Poland changed course in recent days, proposing instead that it would fly the jets to a U.S. air base in Germany — where they would be formally made into American planes — and then the U.S. would deliver them to Ukraine.

(The idea would be for planes to enter Ukrainian air space from Germany rather than Poland because of fears of provoking Russian President Vladimir Putin.)

Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman told Morning Edition that the new plan "caught everyone in Washington off guard," noting that Secretary of State Antony Blinken had just spoken publicly the other day about Poland sending planes directly into Ukraine.

The Pentagon officially rejected the idea in a statement last night, describing it as untenable and without a clear substantive rationale, and emphasized the concerns it raised for the entire NATO alliance.

Morning Edition host Steve Inskeep notes that the whole situation is a bit unusual.

"Normally when nations try to sneak weapons across borders with a bit of what's called plausible deniability, they would not issue a press release first," he said.

But Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby indicated that the conversation wasn't over.

"We will continue consulting with our Allies and partners about our ongoing security assistance to Ukraine, because, in fact, Poland's proposal shows just some of the complexities this issue presents," he said in the statement.

In remarks on Wednesday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy urged both countries to reach a resolution quickly.

"So when will the decision be made? Listen: We have a war! We do not have time for all these signals," he said. "This is not pingpong! This is about human lives! We ask once again: Solve it faster. Do not shift the responsibility, send us planes."

Hours before the snafu, Bowman spoke to a Ukrainian defense official who said his country is grateful that the U.S. and NATO allies are sending weapons like anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles, but the slowness of the West to do so earlier "cost a lot of lives."

He said the military is fighting hard against the more powerful Russia, but it needs more tools — like warplanes, more sophisticated air defense systems, and anti-ship missiles known as harpoons. The official also warned that Putin wouldn't stop at Ukraine, with the Baltics, Poland and other NATO allies in its sights.

Listen to Bowman's reporting, and click here to read more about Harris' trip.

Nuclear plants

Ukraine says the Chernobyl nuclear site has lost power

Posted March 9, 2022 at 7:50 AM EST
A silver structure covers part of a power plant, against a blue sky.
Efrem Lukatsky
Emergency diesel generators are providing power to critical safety systems at the Chernobyl nuclear site, but they only have enough fuel for 48 hours.

The Chernobyl nuclear site has lost power, according to a Facebook post by the State Nuclear Regulatory Inspectorate of Ukraine.

According to the post, power was lost at 11:22 a.m. local time on Wednesday. Emergency diesel generators are providing power to critical safety systems at the site. The generators have enough fuel for 48 hours, and repair to the transmission lines is made impossible by continued combat operations in the area.

Ed Lyman of the Union of Concerned Scientists says the 20,000 spent fuel rods are 20 years old. They do put out heat, and over time, the water in the pool could start to evaporate. If the top of the fuel rods becomes exposed, that would be a potential local radiation hazard.

"It's inching towards a crisis, but there's time to intervene," Lyman said. "It's a troubling development."

In a tweet, the International Atomic Energy agency said that the pool was sufficiently large enough to keep the fuel safe even without electrical power to the site.

But the agency is increasingly concerned about the deteriorating situation at Chernobyl.

It said 210 technical personnel and guards at the site have been forced to work there for 13 days straight (that’s two weeks as of today). It also reported that it had lost radiation monitoring data from the site.

On Thursday, Dmytro Kuleba, Ukraine's minister of foreign affairs, called for a cease-fire to allow for repairs.

"The only electrical grid supplying the Chornobyl NPP and all its nuclear facilities occupied by Russian army is damaged. CNPP lost all electric supply. I call on the international community to urgently demand Russia to cease fire and allow repair units to restore power supply," Kuleba tweeted.

"Putin's barbaric war puts entire Europe in danger. He must stop it immediately!"


Witnesses in Ukraine say shelling continues despite a supposed cease-fire

Posted March 9, 2022 at 7:42 AM EST
Civilians cluster around the orange glow of a hurricane lamp. There are adults and a young baby.
Evgeniy Maloletka
People gather around a lamp in a bomb shelter in Mariupol, where the situation for civilians has deteriorated.

Ukraine and Russia agreed to a temporary pause in fighting on Wednesday to allow civilians to leave through six humanitarian corridors, including one exiting the southern port city of Mariupol. Russian forces have bombarded the city for several days.

Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said Russia has agreed to halt the fighting in several towns, including ones near Kyiv, but she warned of "negative experiences." Russian forces were accused of firing on evacuees over the weekend.

At least 2.1 million people have already fled Ukraine. Most of them have fled west, into EU countries such as Poland and Hungary. The fighting has mostly concentrated in Ukraine's east, south, and parts of the north along the border with Russia and Belarus.

Despite the assurances that the fighting would be suspended in Mariupol, witnesses told NPR that Russian forces are blocking people from leaving and that the shelling continues.

A person walks past a crumbling building, damaged by shelling. Two people look through the rubble.
Evgeniy Maloletka
Local officials in the coastal city Mariupol are skeptical that people would be able to leave due to the increasingly dire conditions.

Local officials, including Petro Andrushchenko, remained skeptical that people would be able to leave the increasingly dire conditions in Mariupol.

"No electricity, no water. It's sad to say, but at least there was snow last night, and people were collecting it to make water."