War in Ukraine: Europeans offer sanctuary as Ukrainians flee Russian bombardment

Published March 4, 2022 at 8:36 AM EST
An older woman in a crowd hold up a sign reading "1 room for mother & child."
Tobias Schwarz
AFP via Getty Images
An older woman in a crowd hold up a sign reading "1 room for mother & child."

At Berlin’s central railway station, hundreds of volunteers in high-viz jackets — some recalling WWII — distribute sandwiches, hot drinks, warm coats and a helping hand to the thousands of Ukrainians disembarking daily.

Here's what else we're following:

Ukrainian cities under bombardment: In the south, the Ukrainian military reports they anticipate a Russian naval landing around Odesa. Here's the latest.

Resistance in Lviv: Tens of thousands of ordinary people across Ukraine have enlisted to fight. In Lviv, daily military training sessions are free and open to the public.

Armament fragment lands near Ukraine's presidential dacha

Posted March 4, 2022 at 12:59 PM EST

A chunk of what is believed to be a Russian rocket or missile smacked into the courtyard of Ukraine’s presidential dacha south of central Kyiv, prompting Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to joke, “Missed.”

That’s according to Zelenskyy spokesman Sergii Nikiforov, who posted photos of the fragment on his Facebook page.

In the past week: Zelenskyy has repeatedly said that both he and Kyiv are the top targets for Russia’s military.

The presidential residence Nikiforov referred to on Friday is in Koncha-Zaspa, an upscale enclave along the Dnieper River that is favored by Ukraine’s political elite.

Zelensky has reportedly been targeted by at least three assassination operations since the Russian military attacked Ukraine last week, according to The Timesof London. The newspaper said the attempts failed in part due to “anti-war elements within Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB).”

World reaction

Ukrainian athletes received a warm reception at the Paralympics opening ceremony

Posted March 4, 2022 at 12:07 PM EST
People wearing blue and yellow jackets march behind a man in a wheelchair, holding the blue and yellow Ukrainian flag.
Mohd Rasfan/AFP via Getty Images
Ukrainian flagbearer Maksym Yarovyi leads the Ukraine delegation in the athlete's parade during the opening ceremony of the Beijing 2022 Winter Paralympic Games at the National Stadium in Beijing on Friday.

The Beijing Paralympic Games kicked off its opening ceremony Friday morning as the world's attention remained fixated on Russia's war in Ukraine and its consequences at home.

Hundreds of athletes representing 46 countries are participating in the Winter Games, which will run until March 13. But some delegations were notably absent from the day's proceedings: Paralympic organizers officially banned Russian and Belarusian athletes from competing, reversing their original decision on Thursday with just one day to go.

The Parade of Nations began early in the ceremony, with China's alphabetical character ordering system meaning that athletes from Ukraine were among the first to march. They appeared in the stadium, clad in blue and yellow, to what sounded like a roar from the audience.

Some members of Ukraine's 20-person delegation raised their fists as they made their way across the floor. TV cameras panned to Andrew Parsons, the president of the International Paralympic Committee, giving a standing ovation.

A person wearing a blue and yellow jacket, sitting in a wheelchair, raises his fist in the air, in front of other similarly dressed marchers.
Mohd Rasfan/AFP via Getty Images
Athletes from Ukraine take part in the opening ceremony of the Beijing 2022 Winter Paralympic Games on Friday.

Ukraine Paralympic committee president Valeriy Sushkevych called the team's arrival in Beijing "a miracle," telling reporters on Thursday that some of the athletes narrowly escaped Russian bombs as they departed.

Sushkevych said his country's presence at the Paralympics is "a sign that Ukraine was, is and will remain a country."

"There are two front lines right now," he said. "One is in Ukraine for our soldiers. And one is here in Beijing."

A short time later, Parsons opened and closed his remarks with an emphatic plea for peace.

Without mentioning Russia by name, he said he was "horrified at what is taking place in the world right now" and urged world authorities to come together — as athletes do — to promote peace and understanding.

"Paralympians know that an opponent does not have to be an enemy, and that united we can achieve more, much more," he said.

Catch up on more highlights from the opening ceremony here.

A small group of people marches on the white stadium floor, next to a projection of the blue and yellow Ukrainian flag.
Dita Alangkara/AP
Team Ukraine make their entrance during the opening ceremony at the 2022 Winter Paralympics in Beijing on Friday.

National Security

Senior U.S. official: No reason to doubt Russia's claims about Ukrainian nuclear plant

Posted March 4, 2022 at 11:55 AM EST

A senior U.S. defense official says the country has no reason to doubt the Russian claim that it's in control of a nuclear plant in Ukraine. The official said there's no sign of radioactive leakage from the Zaporizhzhia power plant. The U.S. Department of Energy is in the lead in investigating and monitoring the plant, with assistance from the Pentagon.

In addition, the official says the Pentagon has no reason to dispute the Russian claim that it controls the southern city of Kherson, but it is not in a position to confirm it —- adding that there are still reports of fighting.

The U.S. has already distributed $240 million of the $350 million in Ukrainian military assistance authorized just last Saturday by President Biden. The official described it only as "anti-armor capability." (The U.S. has been providing Ukraine with Javelin anti-tank missiles for years, and this is believed to be the bulk of the assistance.)

The pace for sending weapons to Ukraine has picked up dramatically, according to the official: It used to take weeks or months, it now takes days or hours. The Pentagon is working with stocks that are readily available.

Total U.S. military assistance to Ukraine is now $3 billion since the first Russian invasion in 2014, with $1 billion in the past year. Fourteen countries have delivered military assistance to Ukraine since the Russian invasion began.

"Many didn't have a record of doing this previously," the official said.

Russia has made clear it opposes this assistance, but there's no evidence it has been able to stop it.

Sen. Lindsey Graham's call for Putin to be assassinated draws backlash

Posted March 4, 2022 at 11:54 AM EST

Sen. Lindsey Graham's suggestion that Russians should assassinate President Vladimir Putin has drawn the ire of Republicans and Democrats concerned over the war in Ukraine.

“Is there a Brutus in Russia? Is there a more successful Colonel Stauffenberg in the Russian military?” Graham asked in a tweet.

Roman emperor Julius Caesar was assassinated by Brutus and others in the senate on the Ides of March. Graham was also referring to German Lieutenant Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, who tried to kill Adolf Hitler in the summer of 1944.

“The only way this ends is for somebody in Russia to take this guy out. You would be doing your country - and the world - a great service,” Graham said.

Among lawmakers concerned over Graham's suggestion were Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas.

"I really wish our members of Congress would cool it and regulate their remarks as the administration works to avoid WWlll. As the world pays attention to how the US and it’s leaders are responding, Lindsey’s remarks and remarks made by some House members aren’t helpful," Omar tweeted.

"This is an exceptionally bad idea," Cruz tweetedin response to Graham's remarks. "Use massive economic sanctions; BOYCOTT Russian oil & gas; and provide military aid so the Ukrainians can defend themselves. But we should not be calling for the assassination of heads of state."

Graham made similar remarks on television Thursday night.

More history: Assassination during military conflict is specifically forbidden by the Lieber Code, which President Abraham Lincoln issued as a general order for U.S. forces in 1863.

Section IX of the code states that the laws of war forbid declaring a member of a hostile force or citizen, or subject of a hostile government to be an outlaw “who may be slain without trial.”

“Civilized nations look with horror upon offers of rewards for the assassination of enemies as relapses into barbarism,” according to the Lieber Code, which underpins international conventions on warfare.

Graham’s remarks drew wide attention and criticism. In response, U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson's office said he believes Putin should be held responsible for any war crimes committed, citing an investigation by the International Criminal Court.

The senator's communications director, Kevin Bishop, sought to clarify his comments.

Graham “also expressed he was okay with a coup to remove Putin as well,” Bishop said. “Basic point, Putin has to go,” he said, adding that the Russian people should find the "off-ramp" to the international crisis.

International Dispatch

Germans, some recalling WWII, flood Berlin central station to help Ukrainians fleeing the war

Posted March 4, 2022 at 11:15 AM EST
Hundreds of people crowd in large room at the station, some holding signs, others wearing volunteer vests.
Hannibal Hanschke
Getty Images
Hundreds of volunteers in high-viz jackets distribute food and supplies at Berlin's central railway station to people fleeing war-torn Ukraine.

Just a week since Putin launched his full-scale invasion of Ukraine, more than one million people have fled the country, according to the U.N. Refugee Agency.

European Union member states have responded by unanimously agreeing to grant automatic, temporary one-year visas (extendable by a further two years) to all Ukrainians, sparing them lengthy asylum procedures.

At Berlin’s central railway station, hundreds of volunteers in high-viz jackets distribute sandwiches, hot drinks, diapers, toys, warm coats and a helping hand to the thousands of Ukrainians disembarking here daily.

Many of the volunteers, like 20-year-old April, wear homemade stickers indicating which languages they speak. One of four languages in which April is fluent is Ukrainian; it’s her mother tongue — even if April is not her real name, something she changed when she came to Germany a year ago because nobody could pronounce it.

April says she’s been unable to get her family out of their native Dnipro and she feels desperate and useless: “The least I can do is help people who were able to escape.” She says she’s here to provide moral as well as material support: “it’s very important for me that my fellow Ukrainians feel welcome here, especially the children.”

Kati, a 36-year-old mother of four from Berlin, holds a sign saying she can offer a room for a family of four. “The pictures of children in bomb shelters and cellars break my heart,” Kati says. “My own grandparents were refugees during the Second World War and I’ve never forgotten their stories.”

But many of the mothers and children who have just arrived on the Warsaw-Berlin Express plan to continue their journey. One of them is 38-year-old Anastasiia from Kyiv and her 2-year-old son David, who are having a rest before taking another train to Munich where she has friends. Her husband, like most Ukrainian men, has stayed behind to fight. “Putin can go to hell” she says as she wipes her son’s runny nose. “I just hope he’s too young to remember all of this” Anastasiia adds, looking at her toddler.

Twenty-nine-year-old volunteer Georgia says the scenes are all too reminiscent of the 2015/2016 refugee crisis, when hundreds of thousands of Syrians fled to Germany. Then, as now, it was local ad-hoc initiatives that took Angela Merkel’s mantra, Wir schaffen das! (We can cope!), to heart and jumped in where local authorities fell short. “It’s organized chaos here,” Georgia says. “It’s super grassroots, all coordinated on Telegram.”  

But 20-year-old Xeniya has serious doubts about being able to cope. Looking shocked and tired, she says she is the only one in her family who decided to flee their native and relatively calm Lviv, which she believes won’t remain calm for much longer. Xeniya says she feels split: “It’s like there are two of me. One here and one in Ukraine, and they can’t exist without each other.” Her relief at reaching safety contradicts her longing for home, a sentiment shared by so many arriving here on hourly trains.


Up close with some of Ukraine's 'well-fed' stray dogs

Posted March 4, 2022 at 10:56 AM EST

The sight of animals roaming the streets of war-torn Ukraine has become a familiar one for NPR's team on the ground.

NPR's Tim Mak and Eleanor Beardsley ran across some dogs recently, including one named Bayraktar who was born at the "Police Canine Center in Kyiv a few months before the war," Mak tweeted Thursday.

"These are early days still, but as the war begins you see a lot of very well-fed, almost stocky dogs on the street," Mak said from the ground over Twitter direct message. "Eleanor Beardsley said that it spoke well of Ukrainians that even their street dogs were in such good health, and I agree."

Caught in the middle: The Fédération Internationale Féline (FIFe), an international cat federation with members in about 40 countries, has banned Russian cats from competition in response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

"The Board of FIFe feels it cannot just witness these atrocities and do nothing," FIFe said.

No cats bred in Russia may be imported and registered in any FIFe pedigree book outside Russia as of Tuesday and no cats belonging to exhibitors living in Russia may enter any FIFe shows outside the country.

On the ground

A diverse resistance is taking shape in Lviv as residents get trained in warfare

Posted March 4, 2022 at 10:38 AM EST
A man aims a gun.
Graham Smith
An instructor demonstrates basic riflery skills to citizens at a park in Lviv, Ukraine.

The city of Lviv in western Ukraine has been spared the worst of Russia’s war so far, but Lviv's residents are preparing for the assault to come to them. Meanwhile, they’re sending supplies and volunteers ready to fight to the frontlines. Residents are attending free firearms training, building DIY firebombs and readying to join the fight.

Here, a diverse resistance is taking shape.

In the week since Russia invaded Ukraine, tens of thousands of Ukrainians have enlisted to fight and Ukraine’s defense ministry expects roughly 16,000 foreign volunteers to join soon.

At a military enlistment center, 19-year-old interior design student Zhora Malconyan stands in line waiting to sign up.

A bulging blue duffle bag is slung around his body. Inside is his uniform, a tin cup, packs of cigarettes, important documents, and individually wrapped candies.

Zhora Malconyan waits outside a military enlistment center in Lviv, Ukraine. Malconyan is one of thousands of volunteers joining Ukraine's resistance.
Arezou Rezvani
Zhora Malconyan waits outside a military enlistment center in Lviv, Ukraine. Malconyan is one of thousands of volunteers joining Ukraine's resistance.

He’s ready to go. Once he enlists, he'll go wherever the military sends him, even if it's Kharkiv or Ukraine’s capital of Kyiv, cities that are under the greatest Russian assault.

Malconyan says he isn’t scared to join.

“They came to our land. They have to be scared, not us.”

Anyone can get trained to fight

Elsewhere in Lviv, daily training sessions are free and open to the public. In an open field, hundreds of citizens watch as three instructors explain how to make a Molotov cocktail, administer basic first aid and use a rifle.

These sessions have become common as the city gears up for war.

A person holds a rifle and speaks to a crowd in a park.
Graham Smith
Citizens in Lviv, Ukraine attend an open-air weapons course at a park downtown. These sessions have become common as the city gears up for war.

One of those in attendance is a tall man with a beard and tattoos. He gives only his first name: Andriy.

“I’m the head of the foreigner fighters coming from Europe to fight with the Azov Battalion," Andriy says.

The Azov battalion is a regiment with a reputation for having the fiercest fighters in Ukraine; the paramilitary group is credited with recapturing the southern port city of Mariupol from Russian separatists in 2014.

They also have neo-Nazi affiliations, but were folded into Ukraine’s national guard.

Andriy’s group of foreign fighters will include members from all over: Belarus, Germany, the U.S. and other parts of Europe.

Andriy is Ukrainian but has a second citizenship and his job is to get the group together, do tactical training and then head to the front. When asked if he’s concerned about foreign fighters showing up in Lviv with no understanding of who they are and why they want to fight, he says, “They will be checked.”

How and for what? He won’t say.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has pointed to groups like this to try to paint Ukraine as rife with Nazis, rather than a nation trying to stop an unprovoked attack on it’s country. It's part of his justification for invading.

Andriy bristles when asked what a symbol he was wearing means. It's an ancient Viking symbol sometimes appropriated by far right movements.

“Cannot say,” he says. Then adds, “It’s not far right.”

In times of war, people don’t always ask questions about who’s coming to defend them.

🔊Listen to the full story here on NPR One.


Ukraine asks the Red Cross to organize safe corridors to help civilians under Russian siege

Posted March 4, 2022 at 10:13 AM EST
A man walks in front of a residential building damaged in yesterday's shelling in the city of Chernihiv on March 4. Officials say 47 people died on March 3 when Russian forces hit residential areas, including schools and a high-rise apartment building, in the northern Ukrainian city of Chernihiv.
Dimitar Dilkoff/AFP via Getty Images
A man walks in front of a residential building damaged in yesterday's shelling in the city of Chernihiv on March 4. Officials say 47 people died on March 3 when Russian forces hit residential areas, including schools and a high-rise apartment building, in the northern Ukrainian city of Chernihiv.

Ukraine is asking the International Committee of the Red Cross to set up humanitarian corridors after negotiators from Ukraine and Russia agreed on Thursday to create safe zones for civilians and aid groups to move. Ukraine says people in Kherson, Kyiv, Chernihiv and elsewhere desperately need help, citing a dangerous lack of food, water, electricity and medicine.

“The situation in a number of Ukrainian cities and villages is critical,” said Olga Stefanishyna, Ukraine’s deputy prime minister for European and Euro-Atlantic integration of Ukraine. “The world must act.”

Shelling by Russian forces have pushed many communities to the brink of a humanitarian catastrophe, Ukraine warned in a message posted to its defense website and other platforms.

On Friday, the International Committee of the Red Cross posted reminders of the Geneva Conventions, which state that civilians and civilian infrastructure should not be targeted -- and civilians must be allowed to leave a conflict zone to seek safety.

On the Ground

The latest from Ukraine

Posted March 4, 2022 at 9:48 AM EST

It's been over a week since Russia launched a large-scale invasion of Ukraine. Cities are being bombarded by hundreds of missile and artillery attacks, but Ukraine still maintains control of the capital city, Kyiv. An estimated 1 million refugees have left the country and millions remain inside, sheltering where they can.

NPR's Tim Mak has been covering the war from within Ukraine. He's in Ternopil Oblast in western Ukraine today and joined Morning Edition with the latest on the conflict.

🔊 Listen here or follow Mak on Twitter for more.

Here's some of what he highlighted:

  • A crisis at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant has been averted for now, experts say. Fighting at the nuclear complex stoked fears of a potential nuclear catastrophe; the nuclear plant is the largest of its kind in Europe. Authorities say a fire there has been put out and radiation levels are normal. The plant is now under Russian control, but it remains crucial in the supply of electricity to Ukraine.
  • Ukrainian cities are under bombardment. In the south, the Ukrainian military reports they anticipate a Russian naval landing around Odesa. Further east in the post city of Mariupol electricity, water and heat have been knocked out after Russian attacks.
  • The Ukrainian government says residential areas continue to be hit with explosives in the northeast city of Kharkiv, Ukraine's second-largest city. The struggle for control of the capital Kyiv is still ongoing.
  • The economy of Ukraine has transformed in the last week to support the war effort, evidenced by a school gym that now serves as a facility to produce camouflaged nets. An industrial business in western Ukraine that used to manufacture agricultural equipment now makes large anti-tank obstacles called hedgehogs, and other war supplies.



Russia’s Duma votes to punish spreading 'fake news' with up to 15 years in prison

Posted March 4, 2022 at 9:12 AM EST
A placard featuring Russian President Vladimir Putin sits on a sidewalk in Moscow.
Natalia Kolesnikova
AFP via Getty Images
A placard featuring Russian President Vladimir Putin outside the Duma building in Moscow reads, "We are with him for the sovereignty of Russia! And you?"

Anyone in Russia who is deemed to spread “fake news” about the Russian military could face up to 15 years in prison under a bill that Russian lawmakers unanimously approved in the Duma on Friday. Since invading Ukraine last week, Russia’s force has suffered losses and been sharply criticized — for both its methods and its professionalism.

The bill is the centerpiece of a legislation package that also makes it a crime to call for not deploying Russia’s armed forces, as well as criminalizing the act of calling for sanctions against Russia.

The legislation will immediately be taken up by the upper-house Federation Council and could be signed into law by President Vladimir Putin by this weekend, Duma speaker Vyacheslav Volodin said.

Thousands of Russians have been arrested since Russia invaded Ukraine, according to the U.N. Human Rights Office.

Under the new bill, prison sentences for spreading news that discredits the Russian military would range from up to three years for members of the public, five to 10 years if the offender used an official position or if their actions had extreme motives — and 10 to 15 years if the consequences are deemed to be serious. All of those infractions would also bring steep fines.

The move comes as the Kremlin shut down media outlets and blocked access to Western news sources in an attempt to control what Russians learn about their country's war in Ukraine.

Presenting Russia’s official narrative about the widely condemned war, Volodin repeated the false claim that Russia’s “special military operation” is a peacekeeping effort that prevented NATO from launching a war in Ukraine and thus averted a humanitarian disaster.


What we know about the capture of Europe's largest nuclear power plant

Posted March 4, 2022 at 8:41 AM EST
Rafael Grossi, Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), points on a map of the Ukrainian Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant on Friday.
Joe Klamar
AFP via Getty Images
Rafael Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, refers to a map of Ukraine's Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant during a news conference at the IAEA headquarters in Vienna on Friday.

Russian forces have captured a Ukrainian nuclear power plant — the largest in Europe.

Heavy fighting caused a fire to break out near one of the Zaporizhzhia plant's six reactors, but Ukrainian authorities say the fire has been extinguished. They also say there were many casualties from the fighting around the plant, which started late Thursday.

At a press conference Friday morning, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Rafael Grossi, said the plant's safety systems are intact. “There has been no release of radioactive material,” Grossi said.

NPR’s Geoff Brumfiel has this update on Morning Edition:

How serious is the damage?

Any sort of damage to a reactor is never good, but these reactors are huge machines. The nuclear material in the reactor sits inside a thick metal pressure vessel, known as its containment, and it’s really tough. So it's entirely possible this building sustained some time of damage superficially, but that the reactor itself is safe. Still, though, we’ve just never been here before, either in terms of nuclear power or modern warfare.

Why would Russia want to take control of this plant?

About half of Ukraine's electricity comes from nuclear power, and this plant is the biggest. It's located in the southeast and is hugely important to the nation. The six reactors provide up to 6,000 megawatts of power.

And we've already seen Russia move on other essential infrastructure, like hydroelectric dams, so it makes sense they’d try to seize this facility.

Could we be looking at a Chernobyl-like meltdown?

Probably not. These reactors are a different design and overall they’re much safer than what was in operation at Chernobyl [in 1986]. But this remains a superserious situation. Large reactors like these — you can’t just flip a switch and turn them off. Their nuclear cores remain hot for days or even weeks after a shutdown. This plant still needs operators working there, it needs power and water to cool the cores. And there are still three other nuclear plants in other parts of the country, including one near Odesa. So I think we are still dealing with a very fluid situation, and there’s a lot of risk here.


Russian residents can no longer access the BBC, in the latest media blackout

Posted March 4, 2022 at 8:30 AM EST
The BBC logo is seen at BBC Broadcasting House in London.
Leon Neal
Getty Images
Russian censors have blocked access to the websites of BBC’s Russian service.

Two days after the BBC said droves of Russians had flocked to its website following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Russian censors have blocked access to that and other news sites. The move comes after authorities forced two prominent independent Russian TV and radio stations off the air.

“Russians woke up Friday to find the websites of BBC’s Russian service, the U.S.-funded Radio Liberty and the independent Russian news service Meduza all down,” NPR’s Charles Maynes reports from Moscow.

The BBC had said a record 10.7 million people had visited its Russian-language website in the war’s first week — more than tripling its usual traffic. Russia-based visitors to its English-language site rose by 252%.

On Thursday, the venerable Russian radio station the Echo of Moscow was shuttered by its board of directors after going silent earlier this week. Also Thursday, Moscow-based TV Rain — which skewered state media propaganda in a weekly show called "Fake News" — suspended its operations after being threatened with a forced closure for “spreading extremist materials.”

TV Rain’s staff gathered on-camera to explain its situation, ending its final broadcast by saying “no war.”

Tech response

Google joins other companies in halting some of its business in Russia

Posted March 4, 2022 at 8:23 AM EST
The Google logo is on a sign in front of a building.
Justin Sullivan
Getty Images
Google is the latest major corporation to pause business with Russia as its invasion of Ukraine escalates.

Google says it has stopped selling online advertising in Russia across all of its services, including Google search and YouTube.

It's the latest major corporation to pause business with Russia as its invasion of Ukraine escalates.

Google operates the world's largest online advertising business, but the tech giant says it is halting that business in Russia "in light of the extraordinary circumstances."

It follows similar moves to pause advertising operations in Russia by Snap, the owner of Snapchat, and Twitter in efforts to economically isolate Russia for attacking Ukraine.

Since the invasion, major corporations have suspended operations or announced leaving the country completely. Google, along with Facebook and TikTok, have blocked access to Russian state-owned media across Europe after an order from officials there.