War in Ukraine live updates: As Biden visits Poland, Russian soldiers are reportedly detaining Ukrainian journalists
President Biden is traveling along the eastern flank of NATO, including a stop in a Polish town only 60 miles from the Ukraine border to see the war's disruption firsthand.
Here's what else we're following:
The war enters a second month: Fighting has intensified north of the capital, Kyiv. But Ukrainian forces now claim to have regained most of suburban Irpin.
Casualties in the Mariupol theater: Around 300 are feared dead in a bombing that happened earlier this month.
From Ukraine's largest children's hospital: We gather stories of some of the youngest victims of war.
Russia says 1,351 of its soldiers have died in Ukraine war
Russia’s military says 1,351 of its service members have been killed in the first month of the Ukraine war — a conflict the Kremlin persists in deeming a “special military operation.” The figure is notably lower than other recent tallies of the war’s toll on Russia’s forces.
An additional 3,825 personnel have been wounded, according to First Deputy Chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces Sergei Rudskoi.
The government will aid families who have lost soldiers; the aid will include helping with their children’s education and repaying loans, Rudskoi said. Russian President Vladimir Putin has previously promised that families whose service members die in Ukraine will receive more than 7 million rubles (around $70,000).
The numbers represent the first official Russian casualty estimates in weeks, and they're much smaller than tallies from NATO and from Ukraine.
U.S. defense officials have been reluctant to provide their own estimates of the war’s toll on Russia, which is contending with Ukrainian defenses that are proving to be much more effective than many had predicted.
A senior U.S. defense official said on Wednesday that the Pentagon doesn’t agree with a NATO official’s statement that Russia has seen between 7,000 and 15,000 of its service members killed, citing the uncertainty of such figures. Without providing alternate numbers, the U.S. official said the ranges of Pentagon estimates “aren't that high.”
All of those figures are well below the Ukrainian military’s tally. On Friday, Ukraine’s defense ministry said its estimates show Russia has lost more than 16,000 personnel in the invasion.
Ukrainian firm behind the world's biggest plane wants to crowdsource its restoration
The Ukrainian company behind the world's largest aircraft is pledging to rebuild the plane after it was destroyed by Russian forces last month — and it's turning to global donors for help.
The Soviet-era Antonov AN-225 was nicknamed "Mriya," the Ukrainian word for "dream." It was the longest and heaviest airplane ever built, and the only fully completed one of its kind. The plane had been used for decades to airlift aid supplies to various crisis-hit countries — until February, when war reached the Hostomel airfield, where it was undergoing routine repairs.
Ukrainian officials said the plane was damaged by heavy fighting at the airfield, though were unable to immediately assess its condition. They also pledged to rebuild the plane as a symbol of Ukraine's aviation capabilities and, now, resilience.
State defense company Ukroboronprom has estimated that full restoration will take more than five years and cost upward of $3 billion — and vowed to get Russia to foot the bill.
"Ukraine will make every effort to ensure that the aggressor state pays for these works," it said.
It appears Antonov, the company behind the plane, has a new plan for how to cover the costs. State news agency Ukrinform reported on Thursday that it is appealing to the international aviation community to help rebuild the plane.
Antonov CEO Serhiy Bychkov wrote in a lengthy Facebook post that the company "strongly considers it necessary to prevent the complete irreversible loss of the legendary aircraft as one of the symbols of modernity and to begin work on the restoration of the flagship of transport aviation, the An-225 "Mriya."
But he said it does not have the funds to carry out the task and is proposing the establishment of an international fund for that purpose. Bychkov appealed directly to heads of state, global aviation producers, foreign partner companies, financial institutions, aviation enthusiasts and anyone "who admired the greatness of the Ukrainian Mriya.' "
He concludes with details of accounts in banks in Ukraine, Germany, Austria and New York to which funds can be transferred and a plea for contributions. More than 4,000 users have engaged with the post as of midday Friday.
Former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine keeps her thoughts about Putin short, simple and profane
Editor's note: This post contains language that some may find offensive.
Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, starts her day with a four-letter message to the Russian president.
"I'm here to tell you that your coffee in the morning tastes so much better in that mug," she said, adding that she ordered them in bulk.
Yovanovitch — who was recalled from her post in Ukraine in the spring of 2019 and went on to become a key figure in the first impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump — has been making the rounds to promote her new memoir, Lessons from the Edge. It hit bookshelves in mid-March, just weeks after Russia first invaded Ukraine.
As part of her promotional tour, she also appeared on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert earlier this month, where she revealed that she's been giving out other anti-Putin merchandise as gifts for years.
Colbert pointed out the bracelet she was wearing, which bears the same phrase as her favorite mug. But she tapped him to read the message out loud: "I'm going to let you say that, because I'm the diplomat."
Yovanovitch said she got the bracelet in Ukraine in 2017 or so. And she liked it so much that she bought a bunch more.
"I bulk-ordered them and I gave them to all visitors, including our congresspeople," she said.
Around the same time, Yovanovitch told Fresh Air that while she used to see the Russian president as a "bully," she now considers him "a war criminal." But she believes he has underestimated the Ukrainian people and their military.
"The Ukrainian people are standing up and saying, 'This is not going to happen,'" she said. "I think [Putin] miscalculated how well his own military would do. And I think he certainly miscalculated the resolve of the West and that we would go to the assistance of Ukraine."
A top Russian journalist found a pig’s head and antisemitic slur left at his door
A decorated pig’s head and antisemitic slur were left outside the Moscow apartment of a leading Russian journalist — the latest in a series of acts of intimidation inside Russia aimed at critics of the Kremlin’s invasion of Ukraine.
Alexei Venediktov, the longtime editor of Echo of Moscow radio before its forced closure earlier this month, reported the incident at his doorstep on social media Thursday.
In one photo he posted, a pig’s head with a wig lies on the floor. Ukraine’s coat of arms is also fixed to his door with an antisemitic slur attached to it.
"This in the country that defeated fascism," Venediktov wrote on his channel on the Telegram messaging app. "Why not just fix a six-pronged star to my apartment door?” he added, in a sarcastic reference to requirements for Jewish homes to be marked with a Star of David during the Holocaust.
Venediktov later published a still image from surveillance video from his apartment complex that appeared to show a figure dressed as a food delivery worker coming to his door. The food company, he said, later contacted him to say the uniform was retired several years ago.
The incident follows a controversial speech by President Vladimir Putin last week in which he compared critics of the war to “traitors” and "scum” and said society would benefit from a “cleansing” of Western-leaning Russians.
Tens of thousands of Russians have fled the country in protest over their government’s actions, with many fleeing pressure by the state.
Several journalists and opposition activists have reported their homes being marked with the word “traitor” or a “Z” — the letter which the Kremlin has seized as a symbol for the operation in Ukraine.
Russian forces are using the letter to mark their vehicles in the field of battle, and to rally the public behind the mission in Ukraine.
Echo of Moscow (known in Russian as Ekho Moskvy) radio was founded in 1990, near the end of the Soviet Union, and emerged as a symbol of the new Russia’s press freedoms.
Earlier this month, Russia’s communication watchdog Roskomnadzor blocked the station’s website, accusing it of spreading "deliberately false information about the actions of Russian military personnel.”
Within hours, Echo’s FM frequency was cut and its board of directors voted to liquidate the station altogether. Despite Echo's liberal reputation, the station was under the media wing of the state-controlled energy corporation Gazprom.
Vendiktov insists Echo was punished for reporting the truth about the war in Ukraine.
Russia’s government censors had previously instructed outlets to use only official Defense Ministry information about its offensive in Ukraine and required that journalists avoid words such as “invasion” or “war” and instead call it a “special military operation.”
Today, Echo’s FM frequency has been given over to the state-run Sputnik radio.
Echo of Moscow hosts have continued some programming under a new name, Zhivoi Gvozd, or the Living Nail, on YouTube.
Russian forces are reportedly holding Ukrainian journalists hostage
Russian soldiers are kidnapping Ukrainian journalists in contested territories and holding them hostage, according to international groups and survivor accounts.
The Paris-based global nonprofit Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said on Friday that Russians have kidnapped, detained and tortured dozens of journalists, while the U.N.'s Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights told the BBC that it has verified at least 36 cases of civilian detentions in Ukraine.
"Ever since the start of the war in Ukraine, the Russian armed forces have been bullying and threatening journalists and local media in the conquered territories to prevent them reporting the facts and get them to spread Kremlin propaganda," RSF said.
It added that soldiers are getting "more and more inventive in their attempts to make Ukrainian journalists cooperate as the war in Ukraine enters its second month," turning to death threats, kidnapping and enforced disappearance.
Russian forces say they have occupied several Ukrainian cities in recent weeks, and have detained local officials — including the mayor of Melitopol, who was since released — in some of those places as well.
The U.N. spokesperson told the BBC that the people being targeted are "mostly representatives of local communities, journalists and people who were vocal about their pro-Ukrainian positions." Many of these incidents involve journalists and even their family members.
One journalist says her father is being held hostage to pressure her
Svetlana Zalizetskaya, the editor of newspaper Golovna Gazeta Melitopola and the RIA-Melitopol news website, says Russian forces are holding her 75-year-old father hostage as punishment for her criticism of the war.
She wrote on Facebook that three people — two soldiers with machine guns and one in civilian clothes — came into her house early Wednesday morning, conducted a messy search, took her parents' phones away and brought her father to an unknown location, according to an English translation from Ukraine'sInstitute of Mass Information.
Zalizetskaya said she was told through loved ones that her dad will only be released after she turns herself in to the military. She is not in Melitopol, however: She left the city after being called to a "preventative" meeting with the Russian-installed leader of the city, where she refused to end her criticism of the invasion.
Zalizetskaya's father's whereabouts are unknown, though she later wrote that he told her over the phone that he was being held "in some basement." She also said that he had previously suffered a stroke and that her mother had survived a heart attack.
"If anything happens to my parents, it will be on the conscience of the occupiers," reads the English translation of her post.
The Russian military has abducted the 75 year old father of journalist Svetlana Zalizetskaya, who refused to cooperate with them in occupied Melitopol. They told her mother that they will return the man only after the journalist comes to them.#RussianWarCrimes pic.twitter.com/obG6URrGRZ— Oleksandra Matviichuk (@avalaina) March 23, 2022
A photojournalist has been missing for nearly two weeks
Ukrainian photojournalist and documentary filmmaker Maks Levin has been missing since mid-March, according to his friends and family.
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, Levin went missing near the village of Huta-Mezhyhirska, in the Kyiv region, where he was covering clashes between Russian forces and Ukrainians on March 13. He reportedly left his car there and headed to another village, but his phone has been offline since that morning and he has not been seen since.
Levin has covered Russia's invasions of Ukraine since 2014, and has contributed to Reuters, the BBC, The Associated Press, and other international outlets, according to Ukrainian state news agency Ukrinform. He's also worked on projects with organizations like the United Nations, the World Health Organization and UNICEF, according to the Huffington Post.
In an interview with Vice published days before his disappearance, Levin described his experience reporting on the front lines and pledged to continue his work documenting the daily lives of Ukrainian soldiers.
“Me, I will stay on the front line as long as I am physically able," he said. "These soldiers are my friends.”
Maks Levin, one of the best Ukrainian photographers, who documented Russia's war against Ukraine since 2014, has been missing since March 13. In the morning of that day, he was working in Vyshgorod district north from Kyiv. That area is currently under Russian occupation pic.twitter.com/Un4HTRodah— Olga Tokariuk (@olgatokariuk) March 22, 2022
Russian forces have allegedly kidnapped, tortured and threatened many others
RSF detailed several instances of Russian forces taking journalists hostage, detaining and intimidating them in the weeks since the invasion began.
On March 8, Russian soldiers stormed a building in the coastal city of Berdianks that houses several media outlets: radio Novosti Berdianks, the newspaper Berdianskiye Vedomosti and television channel Youg TV. RSF says they quickly took control of the TV channel, radio station and its social media accounts, and "took hostage around 50 employees of these media outlets who were present."
One journalist who was there told RSF on the condition of anonymity that the soldiers offered a salary and food in exchange for hostages' cooperation, but no one accepted. He said that for more than five hours, they threatened the hostages with their weapons and explained Russia's rationale for the war, saying they were there to protect them from Nazis. The incident has evidently had a chilling effect.
"Ever since this hostage-taking, Novosti Berdiansk has been broadcasting Kremlin propaganda calling on Ukrainians to lay down their arms," RSF says. "Access to its website, one of the most visited in the region before the start of the war, is blocked."
RSF also alleges that Russian forces are kidnapping and intimidating individual journalists.
Hromadske Radio journalist Viktoria Roshchina was working in the Russian-occupied port city of Berdiansk when she disappeared on March 12, and was freed 10 days later after being forced to record a video saying that she was treated well and Russian soldiers "saved her life," according to the RSF. The BBC reports a slightly different timeline, saying she was taken by unidentified men on March 15 and released after six days.
The RSF also says journalist Oleg Baturin was held and tortured for eight days after being kidnapped by Russian soldiers in the Kherson region, while an unnamed Radio France fixer kidnapped near Kyiv says he was held hostage for more than a week, tortured with electricity and subjected to food deprivation and a mock execution.
In Melitopol, four journalists were arrested at their homes on Monday and taken forcefully by Russian soldiers to an unknown destination, only to be released a few hours later.
Ukraine's National Union of Journalists confirmed this account to the BBC, describing the detentions as part of "a wave of information cleansing" aimed at the "intimidation of journalists and public figures."
Russian troops have also threatened to kill specific journalists, RSF says, even posting the address and passport data of one woman and calling for her to face punishment for criticizing the Kremlin.
At least seven journalists have been killed in Ukraine since Russia first invaded, most recently Russian journalist Oksana Baulina.
Putin’s United Russia political party opened an office in Mariupol, city council says
United Russia, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s longtime political party, has opened an office in the outskirts of the contested city of Mariupol, Ukraine, the city council said on Friday.
The office at the Metro shopping center is being used to disseminate party newspapers and other materials, along with cellphone SIM cards for a company that operates in Ukrainian territory under Russian control, the council said, citing information from local residents.
United Russia is by far the most dominant political party in Russia’s government. But an academic in Moscow told NPR last year that the party has become deeply unpopular, leaving it to rely even more on intimidation and election trickery to maintain its position than it has in the past.
United Russia was founded from existing political blocks in 2001. Among its first leaders was Sergei Shoigu — who now serves as Russia’s minister of defense, leading the war in Ukraine.
Federal officials say Russian spies tried to hack into a Kansas nuclear power plant
A federal indictment made public Thursday accuses four men with ties to Russian spy outfits of trying to gain control of U.S. nuclear power plants — including one in Kansas — through cyber-sabotage.
Prosecutors contend the defendants targeted both software and hardware to cripple critical infrastructure in the U.S., including the Wolf Creek nuclear plant near Burlington, Kan. The U.S. Justice Department describes a pair of concerted attacks that involved, among other tactics, planting malware on more than 17,000 devices.
That alleged hacking, the indictment says, had some success that gave saboteurs unauthorized access to networks and computers across the energy sector.
Ukrainian forces say they've regained most of suburban Irpin
DNIPROPETROVSK OBLAST, Ukraine — As Russia’s all-out invasion of Ukraine enters its second month, fighting has intensified north of the capital, Kyiv. But Ukrainian forces now claim to have regained most of suburban Irpin.
According to Ukrainian regional defense officials, Russian forces are fanning out further around the city of Kyiv but still aren’t able to get into the city.
Slavutych, a city east of Chernobyl, is surrounded by Russian forces, and the city council has ordered residents to stay inside to avoid sniper fire.
Further south, Ukrainian forces claim to have pushed back hundreds of Russian troops and captured some of their tanks. It marks the first real series of counterattacks against Russian forces on the ground in Ukraine.
Ukraine said it destroyed a Russian supply ship yesterday, as it was docked in a seaport in the county’s south. They also say Russia responded by firing two rockets at a Ukrainian military installation near the city of Dnipro overnight.
Russian TV editor will reportedly face a fine for her on-air protest
Marina Ovsyannikova, the TV editor who burst onto the set of a live broadcast to protest Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, will face a fine for her actions, Russian independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta reports.
Ovsyannikova has already been hit with a fine of 30,000 rubles (about $300) for a video she made around the same time as her headline-grabbing demonstration. That fine was for her urging Russians in the video to protest the war in Ukraine — a statement that recently became a crime in Russia.
The new proceeding in Moscow's Ostankino District Court centers on what Ovsyannikova did during a news program on March 16, when she walked behind a Channel One anchor while holding a sign reading "No War" and telling viewers they were watching propaganda and lies. It also said, "Russians against war."
Another new Russian law has made it a crime to spread “fake news” or discredit the military — and that’s the statute Ovsyannikova is now being charged under, according to human rights attorney Sergei Badamshin's Telegram channel.
Ovsyannikova faces a fine of between 30,000 and 50,000 rubles when her case is heard on April 14, Novaya Gazeta said.
A visit to Ukraine's largest children's hospital brings the war's human toll into focus
Morning Edition host Leila Fadel has been reporting from Kyiv, where she says there's something missing: the sound of kids playing. Playgrounds are empty, and trains out of the country are full. UNICEF said yesterday that half of Ukraine's children were displaced in a single month of war.
But at Ukraine's largest children's hospital, the cars keep coming. They're tagged with the word "children" — a plea to Russian forces not to strike.
Fadel and Morning Edition editor Arezou Rezvani visited Kyiv Okhmatdyt Children’s Hospital, where they spoke with staff and patients.
Listen to the full story here. Warning: It's hard to listen to (but important).
Those include Anastasia Rusyn, a radiologist who normally does X-rays and is now learning to tie tourniquets (while also living at the hospital, because it's safer than her home). Just weeks ago, most injuries she saw were the kinds that kids normally get from sports and playground accidents. Now she's dealing with shrapnel and blast trauma.
There's also 13-year-old Voloydymyr Karivansky, who goes by Vova. His mother, Natalia, explains that Russian forces fired on their car as they fled their neighborhood outside Kyiv — killing her husband and her 6-year-old nephew.
Vova's jaw is wired shut, but he points out his wounds: on his legs, knees, hand, back and foot. After weeks of surgeries, he says it doesn't hurt anymore. He's tired of being in the hospital and wishes he could be at home gaming on his phone and playing with his dog.
Soon he will be released from the hospital, but he won't be going home. Vova and his mom will board a bus headed for Poland — like so many others have done in the weeks since the war began.
A Russian airstrike may have killed 300 sheltering in a theater, officials say
About 300 people may have died from last week's bombing of the drama theater in Mariupol, Ukraine, city officials said on Friday, calling Russia a terrorist state for its actions.
The landmark theater had become a place of refuge from the war, with hundreds of people gathered in the building and its bomb shelter. At least 130 people survived the bombing, as work crews searched for chambers in the ruins of the theater.
But in an update on the city council’s Telegram channel, officials said witnesses are now reporting that around 300 people died in the March 16 catastrophe.
The city government accused Russia’s military of inhuman cruelty, saying it knowingly targeted a gathering of civilians. At the time of the attack, the word "Children" was written in Russian in large white letters on the ground in front of and behind theater -- whose size and red roof made it stand out in Mariupol’s landscape.
Biden travels to Poland, mere miles from Ukraine and at the heart of the refugee crisis
President Biden will travel near Ukraine today, stopping some 60 miles from its western border, in Poland. He'll land in Rzeszów, a small city that is the first stop for many of the people leaving Ukraine.
More than 2 million Ukrainians have fled to Poland in the first month of the war. Now Biden will get a firsthand look at how the country is dealing with Europe's most significant refugee crisis since World War II, says NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith, who is traveling with the president. (Listen here.)
After meeting with NATO leaders in Brussels on Thursday, Biden said that seeing the disruption caused by the war will drive home to him why the U.S. needs to take in Ukrainian refugees and reinforce his commitment to helping with relocation and humanitarian assistance.
The administration said on Thursday that it would welcome up to 100,000 refugees fleeing the war in Ukraine and has also committed at least $1 billion dollars in new humanitarian aid.
"This is not something that Poland or Romania or Germany should carry on their own," Biden said.
Keith points out the significance of this visit — Biden is going into a country at the heart of the humanitarian crisis, and to a city not too far from where a Russian missile strike hit last week.
NPR's Joanna Kakissis reports from Krakow that the Polish government wants more protection against Russia, as well as more help for Ukraine.
Lukasz Jasina, spokesman for Poland’s foreign ministry, said Poland feels vulnerable with Russia's aggression so close to its gates, and "dreams about" the permanent presence of American troops.
Biden will meet with U.S. troops with the 82nd Airborne Division, which is in Poland but not going into combat. At yesterday's NATO meeting, Biden reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to Article 5 — which says if one NATO member country is attacked, the entire alliance treats it as though they were all attacked.
But so far the U.S. and NATO have responsed to Russia's aggression in Ukraine with sanctions. Biden was pressed yesterday on whether economic sanctions are working. And while many in the administration had previously said the threat of massive sanctions could serve to deter Russian President Vladimir Putin, Biden stressed that they take time to get results.
"The maintenance of sanctions, the increasing the pain, and the demonstration — why I asked for this NATO meeting today — is to be sure that after a month, we will sustain what we're doing," Biden said. "Not just next month, the following month, but for the remainder of this entire year. That's what will stop him."
Keith notes that there is one big carve-out missing from the sanctions, and that's energy. Europeans and their partners still need Russian oil and gas, which means it's still getting money from them to offset these other economic hits.
Biden announced a new task force today dedicated to moving more liquified natural gas to Europe, with the goal of helping Europe become less reliant on Russian energy sources.
The amount they're talking about is relatively modest, and the language they're using offers a lot of wiggle room, Keith notes, adding that it just highlights that "this is something easier said than done, and the government doesn't necessarily have a lot of control here."
Correction: An earlier version of this post said President Biden will be visiting a Polish city about 40 miles from the Ukrainian border. It is about 60 miles from the border.