War in Ukraine live updates: Russia expands airstrikes, hitting the western Ukrainian city of Lviv

Published March 18, 2022 at 8:08 AM EDT
 Smoke rises over a dim city street
Yuriy Dyachyshyn
AFP via Getty Images
Smoke rises at sunrise after an explosion in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv on Friday.

Lviv has been a relatively safe haven since the war started, but today's hit on a jet repair facility — just 4 miles from the city center and close to its airport — rattled residents. Authorities also said Russia launched six cruise missiles at the facility, two of which were intercepted by Ukrainian defense forces.

Here are other top developments today:

Mariupol theater rescue: At least 130 people were pulled from the shelter below the building destroyed by Russian bombing, but crews are searching for hundreds more.

A Nobel Peace Prize nomination: European leaders are urging the Nobel committee to extend its deadline and consider the people of Ukraine and President Volodymyr Zelenskyy for the 2022 medal.


With gas prices soaring over the Ukraine war, here's a plan to cut oil consumption

Posted March 18, 2022 at 2:39 PM EDT
A customer pumps gasoline into his car in Gulfport, Miss., on Feb. 19.
Rogelio V. Solis
A customer pumps gasoline into his car in Gulfport, Miss., on Feb. 19.

With gasoline prices soaring, the International Energy Agency says it's time to cut oil use dramatically. The energy organization has a 10-point plan to do that, suggesting a range of actions — from cutting highway speed limits to car-free Sundays in big cities.

Global gasoline prices have surged following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last month, with U.S. gasoline prices setting a new national record of more than $4 per gallon.

As the U.S. and its allies continue to levy economic sanctions on Russia, markets have been bracing for serious disruptions to crude supplies. Earlier this month, U.S. oil prices rose to as high as $130.50 per barrel, the highest since 2008.

In response, the IEA has released a list of proposed actions to ease strains and price pains for oil as the peak consumption months of July and August are rapidly approaching.

“As a result of Russia’s appalling aggression against Ukraine, the world may well be facing its biggest oil supply shock in decades, with huge implications for our economies and societies,” IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol said.

The United States and 30 other countries in the IEA have already moved to release 60 million barrels of oil from their reserves. “… we can also take action on demand to avoid the risk of a crippling oil crunch,” Birol added.

The IEA says its plan would cut oil demand by 2.7 million barrels a day within four months of implementation — which it said would equal the oil demand of all the cars in China.

With a majority of oil demand coming from transportation, the plan mostly focuses on how to use less oil getting people and goods from place to place.

Some short-term measures recommended are reducing speed limits on highways by at least 10 kilometers per hour (about 6 mph), implementing car-free Sundays in cities, making public transportation cheaper and incentivizing walking and cycling.

The IEA also suggests encouraging people to work from home up to three days a week where possible.

The organization looked at air travel as another opportunity to cut down on global oil consumption, recommending that businesses avoid using air travel when alternatives exist and that individuals should consider using high-speed and night trains when possible.

It also highlights that adopting electric and more efficient vehicles will decrease oil demand into the future.

NPR has put together some other ways to help you get the most out of your tank of gas.

Russians rally

Putin defends Russia’s actions in Ukraine at a Moscow rally

Posted March 18, 2022 at 2:19 PM EDT
Russia greets a stadium full of people in Moscow on Friday.
Ramil Sitdikov
Pool/AFP via Getty Images
Russian President Vladimir Putin greets the audience at a rally marking the eighth anniversary of Russia's annexation of Crimea at the Luzhniki stadium in Moscow on Friday.

Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke at a stadium packed with thousands of flag-waving supporters in Moscow on Friday, vowing that Russia would prevail in what the Kremlin — under penalty of law — insists be called a “special military operation” in Ukraine.

“The country hasn’t seen unity like this in a long time,” Putin said.

There were multiple reports that state employees had been ordered to attend the rally.

The rare public appearance by Putin, broadcast on major state channels, was at one point briefly interrupted when the signal cut to a patriotic song performed earlier at the concert. The Kremlin blamed the glitch on an issue with the stadium's server.

Seen at the rally were various iterations of “Z,” which has become a symbol of support for Russian military action in Ukraine, including the use of “za,” or “for.”

Onstage with Putin were banners that read, “Za Rossiyu,” or “For Russia,” and “Za Mir bez Natsizma,” or “For a World without Nazism.”

People hold up a banner with the letter "Z" at the Luzhniki stadium in Moscow on Friday.
Pavel Bednyakov
Pool/AFP via Getty Images
People hold up a banner with the letter "Z" at the Luzhniki stadium in Moscow on Friday. The letter has become a symbol of support for Russian military action in Ukraine.

Putin has sought to justify the war — which he refers to as a special military operation” — in part by saying Russian troops are trying to “denazify” Ukraine. That claim has drawn backlash from many world leaders, onlookers and experts alike.

Friday’s rally was part of celebrations to mark what Russia calls its “reunification” with Crimea. Russia annexed Crimea in 2014. Read more about the complex borderland identity in that region here.


Elizabeth Warren wants to stop Russian oligarchs from hiding their money in crypto

Posted March 18, 2022 at 1:25 PM EDT
Sen. Elizabeth Warren sits under a bright light, resting her hand on her face.
Tom Williams
Pool/Getty Images
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., has proposed a bill that would require crypto platforms to know who their customers are and block transactions if they turn out to be under sanctions.

The United States is one of the many Western countries to slap Russia with economic sanctions over its invasion of Ukraine. And some lawmakers fear that Russian oligarchs and entities are using cryptocurrencies to get around them.

For example: Oligarchs might ordinarily change their money from rubles into dollars or euros but are now hampered by sanctions. So they could theoretically change their money into crypto, which would make it easier to hide and potentially even retain its value.

Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts has proposed a bill that would require cryptoplatforms to know who their customers are and block transactions if they turn out to be under sanctions.

She wants to authorize the U.S. Treasury Department to treat cryptoplatforms similarly to banks. That would enable the government to go after the value oligarchs have hidden in crypto, in the same way that it's going after property like yachts and condos.

The "know your customer" proposal is admittedly divisive, since anonymity is what makes crypto attractive to many people in the first place. Warren spoke to Morning Edition's Steve Inskeep about why she's pushing for this legislation.

"Understand this is not just a theoretical problem," she says. "Russia is involved directly in about three-quarters of all of the value that changes hands because of ransomware. We know that Iran and other countries have evaded economic sanctions by using cryptocurrencies. So the threat is real. Russia's good at this, that's why it's important to have a tool available to the treasury."

Listen to their conversation here.


McDonald's is exiting Russia, but its golden arches may not be going far

Posted March 18, 2022 at 1:00 PM EDT
Yellow arches in the shape of an "M" sit on top of a red McDonald's sign, beneath palm trees and a blue sky.
Gene J. Puskar/AP
The sign outside of a McDonald's restaurant in Bradenton, Fla., pictured last month.

A Russian burger chain is seeking to fill the empty seat at the table that McDonald's left when it suspended operations in the country last week. And it's not looking too far for a new logo.

A company has filed a trademark application for the classic red and yellow McDonald's logo with the words "Uncle Vanya," as several social media users pointed out this week. The application, which was filed on Saturday, shows the famed golden arches flipped on their side to resemble a "B" — the Cyrillic equivalent of the letter "V."

Trademark attorney Josh Gerben noted on Twitter that the Russian State Duma had previously suggested that Uncle Vanya's should replace all of the country's McDonald's locations.

McDonald's announced last week that it would temporarily close 850 locations in Russia, part of the exodus of companies distancing themselves from the country over its invasion of Ukraine. Vyacheslav Volodin, speaker of Russia's lower house of parliament, responded with calls for a brand takeover, as The Washington Postreported.

“They announced they are closing. Well, OK, close. But tomorrow in those locations we should have not McDonald’s, but Uncle Vanya’s,” he said. “Jobs must be preserved and prices reduced.”

The chain's namesake is a classic 1897 play by Anton Chekhov, which Encyclopedia Britannica calls "a study of aimlessness and hopelessness."

The trademark filing came just days after Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin said that domestic eatery chains could replace some 250 McDonald's locations in Moscow within a year, according to Interfax.

And earlier this month, the Russian government essentially legalized intellectual property theft, allowing Russian businesses to ignore patents belonging to businesses of "unfriendly countries" (including the U.S.).

Russian President Vladimir Putin also recently endorsed a plan that would nationalize the assets of Western-owned businesses that have left the country, a move the White House has warned against.

"Any lawless decision by Russia to seize the assets of these companies will ultimately result in even more economic pain for Russia," White House press secretary Jen Psaki tweeted. "It will compound the clear message to the global business community that Russia is not a safe place to invest and do business."

The situation McDonald's finds itself in is not exactly unique.

Gerben tweeted on Friday that "trademark squatters are out in full force," referring to the situation in which someone other than the original brand owner obtains a trademark on a brand.

Among other examples: "Idea" furniture factory and "Rustagram."


109 empty strollers sit in a Lviv square, representing children killed in the war

Posted March 18, 2022 at 12:45 PM EDT
On the central square of Lviv, dozens of prams and cradles were installed in memory of all the children killed in Mariupol and in Ukraine since the beginning of the war, on 18 March 2022. Photography by Fiora Garenzi. Ukraine, Lviv, 18-03-2022. Action pour denoncer le bombardement de la maternite et du theatre de Mariupol ayant tue de nombreux enfants a Lviv. Sur la place centrale de Lviv, des dizaines de poussettes et berceaux ont ete installes en memoire de tous les enfants tues a Mariupol et en Ukraine depuis le debut de la guerre, le 18 Mars 2022. Photographie par Fiora Garenzi / Hans Lucas.
Fiora Garenzi
Hans Lucas via Reuters
On the central square of Lviv, an installation of dozens of strollers symbolizes the 109 children who Ukrainian officials say have died so far in Russia’s war on Ukraine.

The sight is peaceful — and sad: 109 strollers, arrayed in neat rows in Lviv’s historic Rynok Square. They symbolize a stark tragedy: the 109 children Ukrainian officials say have died so far in Russia’s war on Ukraine.

Lviv Mayor Andriy Sadovyi posted an image and a video of the installation on Friday, urging people to share their own photos of the event.

“This is the price of war that Ukraine is paying today,” Sadovyi said. He repeated a call many Ukrainian leaders have made since Russia invaded, asking an international coalition to “close the sky” to Russia’s military, by establishing a no-fly zone over Ukraine.

Federal prosecutors in Ukraine said on Friday that 109 children have died in the violence, and more than 130 have been wounded. But the prosecutors warn those numbers are only preliminary, suggesting the real toll on children has been far higher. It said its staff has not been able to inspect sites where active hostilities are taking place.

The largest number of known child victims are in the Kyiv oblast, where 55 children have died, the prosecutors said. Another 34 died in the Kharkiv oblast.

The prosecutors said bombs and artillery shelling have damaged 439 educational institutions, including 63 that were completely destroyed. Some 126 of those buildings are in Donetsk, the agency said.

Member Station Reports
From the Mountain West newsroom

Russia’s freeze on fertilizer exports could make things worse for U.S. farmers 

Posted March 18, 2022 at 12:25 PM EDT

As the Mountain West Newsroom's Madelyn Beck reports:

Russia had previously stopped exporting one type of fertilizer, ammonium nitrate, which officials there said was to protect its farmers from already high costs.

But this latest move comes after Russian threats of retaliation over Western sanctions.

Head to BSPR for more.

Expert opinion

The threat of Russia using a nuclear weapon is low but inching upward

Posted March 18, 2022 at 12:07 PM EDT
A protestor in Barcelona holds a sign reading "Save all Europe from a nuclear catastrophe" during a demonstration in support of Ukraine and to protest against Russia's invasion of the country.
Lluis Gene
AFP via Getty Images
A protester in Barcelona holds a sign reading, "Save all Europe from a nuclear catastrophe" during a demonstration in support of Ukraine.

U.S. leaders have resisted calls from Ukraine to establish a no-fly zone over the country. Such a policy would likely force direct U.S. military involvement in the war, escalating into a conflict between two nuclear powers.

Days after Russia invaded Ukraine, President Vladimir Putin gave orders to his nation's nuclear forces into combat duty. The U.S. said it would not respond with changes to its own nuclear posture, but as the war goes on, some have warned that a nuclear escalation is possible.

But the chances of that are very low, according to Fred Kaplan, author of The Bomb: Presidents, Generals, and the Secret History of Nuclear War.

But after stating that upfront, Kaplan, who is also a national security correspondent at Slate, warns that the probability of a nuclear confrontation has increased as Putin's forces have seemingly struggled with the ground war.

"There's a higher chance of something like that happening, maybe, than any time since the Cuban missile crisis," Kaplan told NPR's Rachel Martin on Morning Edition.

If Russia did use a nuclear weapon, either long-range or in the field of battle, policymakers would face the difficult decision of how to respond, Kaplan explained. He describes this dilemma in his book, when White House and Pentagon officials war-gamed different scenarios.

"Even if there is the finest-tuned intentions of keeping the war limited and not hitting population centers and so forth, the effects of nuclear weapons — what they can do to communication systems, the satellite perception, the probability of miscalculation, misperception, of things going generally awry — are much greater than any think tank board-playing war game has ever been able to anticipate," he said.

"People have been writing about nuclear strategy since a few weeks after Hiroshima and Nagasaki," Kaplan said. "People have written out scenarios. Despite this, for decades, nobody has the slightest idea what would happen after one nuclear weapon is used."

Listen here for more of Kaplan's interview.


Ukrainian actress Oksana Shvets dies in a Russian rocket attack

Posted March 18, 2022 at 11:52 AM EDT

Famed Ukrainian actress Oksana Shvets was killed when Russian forces shelled a residential building in Kyiv, her theater troupe announced Thursday. The English-language Kyiv Post also confirmed her death. She was reportedly 67.

Her troupe, the Young Theater, shared the news in a Facebook post. It described Shvets as a talented actress and "well-deserved artist of Ukraine," according to an English translation.

She had a storied career in both theater and film, asDeadlinenotes. In 1996, she won one of the country's highest artistic honors, which roughly translates to "Honored Artist of Ukraine" and is only awarded to the most accomplished performing artists in the nation.

Schvets graduated from the theater studio at the Ivan Franko Theater and the Kiev State Institute of Theater Arts, according to The Hollywood Reporter. She also performed with the Ternopil music and drama theater and the Kiev Theater of Satire.

Her death came less than two weeks after another Ukrainian actor, 33-year-old Pasha Lee, was killed by Russian shelling in the city of Irpin. Deadline reports that he had joined the Territorial Defense Forces of Ukraine's military the previous week in response to Russia's invasion.

Free speech

An outspoken food blogger is among the first targets of Russia's 'fake news' law

Posted March 18, 2022 at 11:07 AM EDT

One of the first people to face criminal charges over Russia's strict new censorship law is a food blogger and Instagram influencer who used her platform to criticize the war in Ukraine from abroad.

Veronika Belotserkovskaya goes by "Belonika" on Instagram, where she has more than 900,000 followers. Her posts are largely of glamorous selfies, sandy beaches, bright flower bouquets and colorful meals, but her captions have turned increasingly political in the weeks since Russia invaded Ukraine, according to Instagram's English translations.

In the caption of one Feb. 28 photoof herself standing in front of a blue and yellow door, Belotserkovskaya expressed her solidarity with Ukraine and slammed Russian President Vladimir Putin as "one man ... tired of life, bored of the absolute power that his submissive people carried in his beak for 22 years" who believes "that he is the heaven."

On March 5, she decried Russian propaganda, spoke of facing online attacks from "bots and patriots" and vowed not to stay silent. Other recent posts urge readers to watch foreign TV instead of Russian state media and offer advice on how to talk to loved ones affected by propaganda and misinformation.

Belotserkovskaya says in her Instagram bio that she was born in Odesa, Ukraine, and currently lives outside of Russia. According to The Guardian, the 51-year-old settled in the south of France during the pandemic and now runs an "upmarket cooking school" from her house there.

She is one of the first three Russian citizens to face a criminal case under a strict Russian law that makes it illegal to share information that counters the Kremlin's narrative about the war.

According to a report from Interfax, the Russian Investigative Committee is accusing Belotserkovskaya of using Instagram to "present as true reports the knowingly false information about the Russian Armed Forces being used to destroy cities and the civilian population, including children, in Ukraine, in the course of the special military operation in the territory of this country."

The committee said on Wednesday that her posts "discredited" Russia's authorities and military, and that it is considering whether to put her on an international wanted list.

People found guilty of spreading false information could face up to 15 years in prison under the new law, which has forced Russia's remaining independent news outlets to shutter and left Kremlin-backed media as increasingly the only word of record.

Belotserkovskaya later wrote on Instagram that she had "officially been recognized as a decent person" and thanked people for their support and offers of help.

Belotserkovskaya told The Guardian that she does not plan to return to Russia as long as there are charges against her, a situation she described as both shocking and amusing.

She also referenced Putin's recent remarks that Russian society would benefit from a so-called "cleansing" of "scum and traitors" who align with the West in its criticism of the war, calling herself "exactly the type of person" he had in mind.

“I live a good life, post pretty pictures online about food," she said. "They now want to portray me as the face of the ‘decadent west’.”

Belotserkovskaya said the fact that a lifestyle blogger — rather than a journalist or politician — is among the first to face criminal charges under this law shows that Russian authorities are aiming to punish a broader swath of society and create an atmosphere of fear.

She added that she feels safe speaking out from abroad but knows others are not as lucky. Thousands of dissidents have fled the country in recent weeks as authorities crack down on dissent.

“I am not a political person, I am speaking out as a mother of three sons. Ukrainian children are dying, it is not possible to stay quiet,” she said. “Many of my friends in Russia agree with me but are scared to say anything. I completely understand that.”

On the ground

Russia has the right to fire on Western arms shipments to Ukraine, Lavrov says

Posted March 18, 2022 at 10:22 AM EDT

Russian forces will treat Western arms shipments to Ukraine as legitimate military targets, Russia Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Friday.

The remarks come as the U.S. and its NATO allies look to support Ukraine without sparking a wider conflict. In Ukraine, they’re also seen as a sign that the country will see more airstrikes in its west, like Russia’s missile strike near Lviv’s airport, far from the front lines of the war.

Lavrov made the comments in an interview with Russia Today, warning that if Western nations continue sending weapons to Ukraine, Russia will see any shipments in Ukrainian territory as targets. The remarks were also noted in state-run Tass media.

Ukraine has successfully resisted Russia’s invasion for more than three weeks, and it has repeatedly called for an international coalition to establish a no-fly zone. The U.S. and its allies have stopped short of that move, but they’re looking at bolstering Ukraine’s defenses against Russia’s air superiority.

Slovakia said on Thursday that it’s willing to ship S-300 surface-to-air defense systems to Ukraine if Slovakia’s NATO allies promise to replace them with other weapons.

“The S-300 is a Soviet-designed system that can take down Russian jets miles-high in the air over Ukraine,” as NPR’s Quil Lawrence reported.

Hoax calls

Callers claiming to be Ukraine's prime minister got through to 2 U.K. officials

Posted March 18, 2022 at 9:19 AM EDT
A man in a suit and a woman in a pink dress and brown jacket, carrying binders under their arms, walk next to each other on a path near grass and flowers.
Peter Summers
Getty Images
British Defence Secretary Ben Wallace and Home Secretary Priti Patel both say they received video calls this week from imposters claiming to be Ukraine's prime minister.

Two top officials in the United Kingdom say they received video calls this week from imposters claiming to be Ukraine's prime minister and called it an unsuccessful attempt to sow division and disinformation.

Defense Secretary Benjamin Wallace tweeted on Thursday that he grew suspicious and hung up after the male caller "posed several misleading questions." It is not yet clear who was behind the calls or whether it was the same individual in both cases, though Wallace placed the blame on Russia.

"No amount of Russian disinformation, distortion and dirty tricks can distract from Russia’s human rights abuses and illegal invasion of Ukriane," he wrote. "A desperate attempt."

Home Secretary Priti Patel then shared that the same thing had happened to her earlier in the week, calling it a "pathetic attempt at such difficult times to divide us."

A Ministry of Defence source told Reuters that Wallace has ordered an immediate inquiry into how the roughly 10-minute call was allowed to happen.

Also citing a defense ministry source, the BBC reports that the "fairly sophisticated" video call was set up after another government department forwarded the ministry an email that claimed to be from an aide at the Ukrainian Embassy in London.

The BBC says the caller posed as Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal in front of a Ukrainian flag, asking questions about Ukraine's ambition to join NATO, the status of the ongoing negotiations between Ukraine and Russia, and whether the U.K. would send warships to the Black Sea.

Wallace "was asked leading questions to encourage inappropriate comments" but "didn't say anything that was not factual or appropriate," the defense ministry source said. Still, ministry sources are reportedly concerned about possible attempts to edit or distort Wallace's answers for propaganda purposes.

Shadow Home Office Minister Holly Lynch said an urgent investigation is needed in order to prevent such incidents from happening again.

“For individuals to be able to fraudulently gain access to two of the most senior government ministers with responsibilities for our national defence is worrying," she said, according to The Guardian. "There are questions that need answering as to why the basics in due diligence appear not to have happened, especially at a time of heightened security concerns around disinformation and cyberattacks."

Shmyhal himself has weighed in on the incident on Twitter, writing that Wallace should ask future Ukrainian callers to say the word palianytsia before starting a conversation. (Sociolinguist Lisa Lim wrote in theSouth China Morning Post that the word, which means a type of bread, is pronounced differently by Russian and Ukrainian speakers and is therefore being used to identify Russian saboteurs.)

"Despite all attempts of Russian disinformation, the world can see that the truth is behind Ukraine," Shmyhal wrote.

On the ground

At least 130 people are saved from Mariupol theater rubble. Search continues for hundreds

Posted March 18, 2022 at 9:08 AM EDT

At least 130 people have been pulled from the Mariupol theater that was hit by a Russian airstrike, but rescue crews are still trying to find hundreds more stuck under the rubble, according to Ukrainian member of parliament Serhiy Taruta.

As many as 1,000 or more people were in the theater and its shelter Wednesday at the time of the attack, Ukrainian officials say. But it remains unclear how many might have survived. The theater’s bomb shelter has three separate sections, Taruta said in an update, and it’s not known if all of those portions remain intact.

The Azov Battalion, a paramilitary unit that is part of Ukraine’s national guard, posted images online showing the devastated building.

The search and rescue work is complicated by a number of factors, Taruta said, including the lack of critical services in Mariupol, which has been under siege for weeks, and a scarcity of doctors to treat the wounded.

Italy is pledging to help rebuild Mariupol’s Drama Theater as soon as possible.

“Theaters of all countries belong to the whole humanity," Italian Culture Minister Dario Franceschini said via Twitter.

Support for Ukraine

Some European leaders are trying to nominate Zelenskyy for the Nobel Peace Prize

Posted March 18, 2022 at 8:21 AM EDT
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy raises his hand and smiles on a large screen in front of a full auditorium of people.
J. Scott Applewhite
Pool/Getty Images
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy speaks to the U.S. Congress by video on Wednesday in Washington, D.C.

Dozens of current and former European politicians are calling on the Nobel Peace Prize Committee to extend its deadline to allow for the nomination of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and the people of Ukraine.

Officials from the Netherlands, Estonia, Sweden, Bulgaria, Slovakia, Romania, Germany, Belgium and the United Kingdom made the plea in a March 11 letter, in which they called on the committee to reconsider the 2022 nomination procedure in light of "historically unprecedented events."

The nomination deadline was Jan. 31, but they have asked it to reopen and extend the nomination period until March 31, in order for them to nominate Zelenskyy and the Ukrainian people for the prestigious prize. They said such an act would be a tangible sign of the world's support for Ukraine amidst Russia's war of aggression.

"Brave Ukrainian men and women are fighting to preserve democracy and self-government. From the defiance democratically elected Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to the man with tears in his eyes saying goodbye to his family to fight for his country, people all over Ukraine are rising up to resist the forces of authoritarianism," they wrote. "Our words of sympathy and support can hardly do justice to the sacrifices they make for the principles of human rights and peace."

This year, there are 343 candidates being considered for the2022 Nobel Peace Prize, of whom 251 are individuals and 92 are organizations. Nobel officials say this is the second-highest number of candidates ever, following a record 376 in 2016.

The names of the nominators and nominees are kept secret for 50 years. The committee stressed on its website that it does not reveal nominations, either to the media or to candidates themselves.

"In so far as certain names crop up in the advance speculations as to who will be awarded any given year’s prize, this is either sheer guesswork or information put out by the person or persons behind the nomination," it added.

NPR has reached out to the committee for comment on the letter.

The letter's signatories acknowledged that their request would constitute a break from typical procedure but said they believed it was justified by the situation.

"It is our democratic duty to stand up to authoritarianism and to support a people fighting for democracy and their right to self-government," they wrote. "The veneer of civilization is paper-thin, we are its guardians and we can never rest."

Separately, a Change.org petition calling on the Nobel Foundation to award Zelenskyy the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize and TIME to make him its 2022 Person of the Year has garnered more than 45,000 signatures in recent weeks.

Foreign relations

Why Biden's call with Xi is unlikely to change China's stance on Russia

Posted March 18, 2022 at 8:11 AM EDT
President Biden sits at a desk with a binder and his hands clasped, next to a screen showing Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Mandel Ngan
AFP via Getty Images
President Biden meets with Chinese President Xi Jinping during a virtual summit in November.

The leaders of two countries that have criticized each other in public are set to hold a call today, in private.

President Biden has a call scheduled with Chinese President Xi Jinping this morning — amid Russia's mounting violence in Ukraine, which China has yet to condemn. The U.S. wants China — which says it's neutral globally but has projected a very pro-Russian message at home — to take a stronger position against the invasion.

"China is already on the wrong side of history when it comes to Ukraine and the aggression being committed by Russia," U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken toldMorning Editionearlier this week. "The fact that it has not stood strongly against it, that it has not pronounced itself against this aggression, flies in the face of China’s commitments as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council responsible for maintaining peace and security."

China's foreign ministry spokesperson has called that comment a smear and claimed that the U.S. and NATO are behind the crisis in Ukraine. Meanwhile, U.S. officials warn that Russia is turning to China for military and financial assistance in the face of widespread Western sanctions (and say there will be consequences if it complies).

Biden is expected to warn Xi about the ongoing political costs of China staying silent on the conflict, reports NPR's Emily Feng from Beijing. She spoke to Morning Edition about why today's call alone is likely not enough to push China to take a stronger stance. Listen here.

Why China's role is important

China is a key player in the conflict because it has leverage over Russia, Feng explains. The two countries have strong ties, even signing a joint statement just last month that pledged their partnership had "no limits."

As Russia becomes increasingly isolated and excluded from the global society of nations over the world's reaction to its aggression in Ukraine, it will have more reason to rely on China.

And China, for its part, has deflected blame for the war to the U.S. and native expansionism, even though it claims to be neutral. Feng says its actions speak louder than words: It abstained on a recent U.N. resolution vote condemning the war, and this week was the only country to join Russia in voting against an International Court of Justice resolution calling for an end to the war.

What could change China's calculus for supporting Russia?

Feng says today's call probably won't change much but does signal that the U.S. hasn't believed China's line about staying neutral on the war.

She says the costs of that neutrality are already beginning to show in Beijing. The U.S. has mobilized a coalition of allies in Europe, NATO and Japan to sanction Russia, and China's stock market briefly tanked by 40% this week over anxieties about the war. People are paying extra at the gas pumps in China, too.

"So Biden's call is not going to be the final straw that pushes China to change its position on the war. For that to happen, there's got to be more consistent and prolonged pressure on China and Russia," Feng says, adding that China and its economy benefit from global stability.

What does China want?

Feng says that in the long term, China wants to diminish the U.S.-led world order. Its partnership with Russia is useful toward that goal of distracting and weakening the U.S. and its allies.

"What China is now counting on is if it waits long enough, this coalition ... of NATO counties, European countries, the U.S., Japan, that might fracture and lose shape over time as economic sanctions against Russia start costing the U.S. and its allies," she says. "China is even willing to wait until Ukraine is fully destroyed, and then it will be in a really good position to position itself as potentially a cease-fire broker between Russia and Ukraine."

On the ground

Russian missiles strike a military facility near Lviv airport

Posted March 18, 2022 at 8:08 AM EDT
Smoke billows over a street near the airport in Lviv.
Claire Harbage
Smoke billows over a street near the airport in Lviv.

Russia’s military used cruise missiles to hit an aviation repair plant near Lviv’s airport in western Ukraine, officials say. The site is used to work on Ukraine’s MiG-29 fighter jets. There are no casualties because the facility halted work earlier on Friday, according to Lviv Mayor Andriy Sadovyi.

“There were three loud blasts about 6:30 this morning,” NPR’s Leila Fadel reports from Lviv. “I woke up to air raid sirens. There are plumes of smoke that could be seen on the skyline. And local officials say cruise missiles were fired from the Black Sea.”

Ukraine’s military has previously given detailed updates on the Lviv State Aircraft Repair Plant’s work to overhaul and upgrade MiG-29 fighters. The attack also brought the war to a new part of Ukraine.

“This is the first time the city of Lviv has been struck since the start of Russia's war in Ukraine,” Fadel said. “And it's significant because Lviv is Ukraine's city of refuge for the displaced, where international aid is coming through to supply parts of the country with no access to food, to water, to supplies.”

Hours after the attack, residents who live nearby were trying to return to life as usual.

"We all heard the explosions, and once we did, we all ran into the bomb shelter," Yevhen Halakhov, who lives near the airport, told NPR as he pushed his grandson on a swing set.