War in Ukraine: Civilians flee the port city of Odesa after a Russian strike kills at least 8 people

Published April 25, 2022 at 8:41 AM EDT
A pink stuffed pony and a pink stuffed hippo peek through tulips and other colorful flowers on a platform.
Anastasia Vlasova
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Getty Images Europe
Residents have placed toys and flowers in remembrance of a mother and 3-month-old girl who died in a rocket strike on a residential building in Odesa.

Among the dead at a heavily damaged apartment building are a mother and her 3-month-old child. The attack came as a shock on Orthodox Easter weekend in a city that had felt relatively safe.

Here's what we're following today:

In Mariupol: Russia says it will open a humanitarian corridor for civilians to leave their shelter in a steel plant; Ukraine warns it's not safe.

The White House plans to nominate a new ambassador to Ukraine: Bridget Brink is a career diplomat and current ambassador to Slovakia.

Blinken and Austin in Kyiv: The U.S. secretary of state and the U.S. defense secretary met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in a show of support.

Politics

Biden plans to nominate Bridget Brink as the next ambassador to Ukraine. Who is she?

Posted April 25, 2022 at 12:56 PM EDT
This official undated portrait provided by the U.S. Department of State, shows Ambassador Bridget Brink. President Joe Biden announced on Monday his nomination of Bridget Brink to serve as U.S. ambassador to Ukraine. Brink, a career foreign service officer, has served since 2019 as ambassador to Slovakia. She previously held assignments in Serbia, Cyprus, Georgia and Uzbekistan as well as with the White House National Security Council. The post requires confirmation by the U.S. Senate.(U.S. Department of State via AP)
U.S. Department of State
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AP
Bridget Brink, currently the U.S. ambassador to Slovakia, is President Biden's pick for ambassador to Ukraine.

The U.S. hasn't had an official ambassador to Ukraine since 2019, when former President Donald Trump removed Marie Yovanovitch from her role. After several years and Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine, President Biden says he plans to change that.

On Monday, the White House announced Biden's intention to nominate Bridget Brink to the position.

Brink currently serves as the U.S. ambassador to Slovakia. The veteran diplomat has spent more than two decades in the Foreign Service focusing on Europe and Eurasia.

State Department spokesperson Ned Price said Monday that if confirmed, Brink will lead with "dedication and distinction."

"Her decades of experience make her uniquely suited for this moment in Ukraine’s history," he added.

She's held positions in two other former Soviet republics

Brink, who hails from Michigan, holds degrees from Kenyon College as well as the London School of Economics and Political Science and speaks multiple languages, including Russian.

She originally joined the State Department in 1996, according to her official biography, and began her career in Belgrade, Serbia.

Over the years she's held multiple roles at the State Department, including Cyprus desk officer and deputy director for southern European affairs. She was also the director for the Aegean and the South Caucasus at the National Security Council.

Brink served as the deputy chief of mission at the U.S. embassy in Tbilisi, Georgia from 2011 to 2014, then in Tashkent, Uzbekistan for a year.

From there she became a senior advisor at the State Department's Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, where she was responsible for issues related to Eastern Europe and the Caucusus.

Trump nominated her as ambassador to Slovakia in 2019. She was confirmed by the Senate, which will need to happen again in order for her to assume her new position in Ukraine.

She has spoken about the 'Translatlantic link' in her professional and personal life

At her swearing-in ceremony in August 2019, Brink discussed her deep ties to Europe, in what she described as a "Transatlantic bond" that "runs through my entire personal and professional life."

She recalled being a student in London when the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, for example. And going back further, she told a story about her family's experience in World War II:

"Almost 80 years ago, my husband’s grandmother, Ada McIntyre, survived the Blitz in Manchester while her husband, Bernard McIntyre, bravely helped evacuate the soldiers trapped in Dunkirk as a member of the Royal Navy," she said. "In another theater of the war, a young U.S. Army doctor named Donald Brink twice treated the American Commander of the war in Europe."

In one of those cases, she said, he and two other physicians were called on to complete General Dwight Eisenhower's physical to determine his eligibility for promotion to his fourth star.

Citing family lore, Brink said her grandfather saw that Eisenhower's blood pressure was a bit high, and encouraged him to "lie down for a few minutes and think happy thoughts." It worked, and he passed his physical.

"The rest, so they say, is history," Brink said. "General Eisenhower was promoted, became the architect of the Normandy campaign, and then President of the United States. Following the presidency, General Eisenhower also became the first Supreme Allied Commander of NATO."

In that speech, Brink thanked many of her mentors, colleagues and family members — including her two children, her husband and her British in-laws, calling theirs "literally a Transatlantic family."

She visited the Ukrainian border shortly after Russia first invaded

Brink visited Slovakia's border with Ukraine on Feb. 25, a day after Russia began its invasion, according to a State Department release.

She said at the time that the U.S. would continue to provide support to the Ukrainian people and work closely with Slovakia to help it respond to "this unprovoked and unjustified attack by Russia."

"As we all stand behind Ukraine, I have been closely monitoring the provision of direct humanitarian aid by Slovakia to Ukraine and the gas return capacity since 2014," she added. "Witnessing the aid and support that all Slovak troops offer to Ukraine causes humility and admiration. My heart is with every victim of this senseless war."

Entertainment

French zombie comedy 'Z' changes its name ahead of Cannes at Ukrainians' urging

Posted April 25, 2022 at 11:49 AM EDT
A man in a quarter-zip and collared shirt, wearing glasses, poses against a bright blue wall.
Valerie Macon
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AFP via Getty Images
Director Michel Hazanavicius poses for a photo in 2018.

Director Michel Hazanavicius' new film was supposed to open the Cannes Film Festival next month under its French title, Z (Comme Z). It's now slated to premiere under a different name instead after Ukrainian protesters noted that the letter Z has come to symbolize support for Russia's war in Ukraine.

The director announced on Monday that he has renamed the Zombie comedy Coupé for the Cannes premiere. It was already scheduled to be released internationally under the name Final Cut, IndieWire reports.

In a statement reported by The Hollywood Reporter and Variety, Hazanavicius wrote that the title was "perhaps funny" when the film was completed several months ago, but not anymore.

"My film is made to bring joy and under no circumstances would I want it to be associated directly or indirectly with this war," he wrote. "I am therefore very happy to change its title, and to this extent to mark my most total support for the Ukrainian people."

Hazanavicius is best known for the 2011 comedy-drama The Artist, for which he won the Academy Award for best director. His upcoming film is a remake of the 2017 Japanese zombie comedy One Cut of the Dead, starring Romain Duris and Bérénice Bejo.

Hazanavicius said that it is "too late" to change the film's title in France, where it will premiere in just a few weeks. But he said he plans to use the international title on all marketing materials at Cannes, which begins May 17.

The announcement comes days after the Ukrainian Institute sent a letter to Hazanavicius and Cannes officials, urging them to rename the opening night film as "a gesture against the barbarity, violence and terror of the Russian army," according toVariety.

Natalie Movshovych, head of film at the Ukrainian Institute, told the publication that local media in Russia had been using the film's title to their advantage, running stories that she described as "See? They are supporting us, too."

Hazanavicius told Variety that the film's name was inspired by what France calls "series Z" movies, similar to B- (or low-budget) movies in the U.S.

He said he never meant to cause Ukrainians harm, noting that he had spent several years making a movie called The Search about the 1999 war between Chechnya and Russia that showcased the violence of the Russian military.

"My heart goes out to the Ukrainian people who have been suffering enough, and the last thing I want to do is to cause more pain or more discomfort," he added.

Cannes organizers announced last month that they will not welcome official Russian delegations or "accept the presence of anyone linked to the Russian government" unless the war ends in conditions that satisfy the Ukrainian public. They are not boycotting Russian films, however.

Officials are also hosting a "Ukraine Day"during the festival to support the country's film industry, and say they have been in discussions with the European Commission about how to safely bring over a delegation of more than two dozen Ukrainian filmmakers and other professionals.

Politics

How the war in Ukraine affected French president Macron's reelection

Posted April 25, 2022 at 10:50 AM EDT
Macron and his wife wave to a crowd waiving French and European Union flags.
Aurelien Meunier
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Getty Images
France's incumbent president Emmanuel Macron and his wife Brigitte Macron acknowledge voters after Macron won reelection Sunday.

French President Emmanuel Macron won a second term Sunday, beating out his rival, far-right candidate Marine Le Pen, by a comfortable margin. The French public may have been thinking of the war in Ukraine when they cast their votes, says an expert.

Allies were closely watching the election results in France and likely felt relief at the outcome. A victory by Le Pen, an admirer of Russian President Vladimir Putin, could have been a terrible blow to France's allies at a crucial time, reports NPR's France correspondent Eleanor Beardsley.

France is a nuclear power and currently stands united with NATO and other allies on opposing Russia's invasion, but a new administration would have created uncertainty in how France would address Russia's war going forward.

Political analyst Gilles Ivaldi has been following Macron's reelection. He's with the Center for Political Research at the French research university Sciences-Po and spoke to Morning Edition;listen here.

Both candidates likely gained votes in reaction to the war in Ukraine, says Ivaldi.

Macron experienced a rallying effect, especially in the earlier days of the war, but Le Pen's social populist agenda spoke to some voters as the economic impact of the war hit France domestically, he says. When she conceded the race, Le Pen sounded triumphant, as more voters had supported her than in years past, reports Beardsley.

"So in that sense, I would say the war in Ukraine has worked both ways," Ivaldi says.

Humanitarian crisis

Russia says civilians can leave the Mariupol steel plant, but Ukraine disagrees

Posted April 25, 2022 at 10:00 AM EDT
Russian military vehicles drive through a city.
Alexei Alexandrov
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AP
Russian military vehicles move in an area controlled by Russian-backed separatist forces in Mariupol, Ukraine on Saturday.

Russia's defense ministry says it will allow civilians to evacuate from the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol on Monday, according to a statement shared on Telegram and translated by Western outlets. Ukraine says no humanitarian corridor agreement has yet been reached.

The steel plant is the last remaining Ukrainian outpost in the port city, which has been blockaded by Russian forces for much of the last two months. Roughly 2,000 troops have been fighting to defend the plant, in which civilians have been taking shelter underground. Ombudsman Lyudmila Denisova previously put that number at about 1,000, according to the Kyiv Independent.

Last week Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered troops not to storm the steel mill, but rather seal it off so that "not even a fly comes through." Ukrainian officials said on Sunday that Russian forces had tried to storm the complex and were continuing to bombard it with airstrikes, including by long-range aircraft.

The Russian Defense Ministry said on Monday that it will open a humanitarian corridor for civilians to evacuate from the plant starting at 2 p.m. local time.

Russian troops "from 14:00 Moscow time on April 25, 2022, will unilaterally stop any hostilities, withdraw units to a safe distance and ensure the withdrawal of" civilians, according to a translation from Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

The ministry said the ceasefire will specifically ensure the withdrawal of workers, women and children from the plant in any directions they choose, Forbes reports. It also accused Ukrainian forces of using the civilians trapped inside the plant as human shields — Ukrainian officials have refuted that claim and accuse Russian forces of deliberately targeting civilians.

Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshschuk said on Monday that the two countries had not reached an agreement with Russia on allowing humanitarian evacuations from Mariupol.

“It is important to understand that a humanitarian corridor opens by the agreement of both sides," she said on Telegram, according to Reuters. "A corridor announced unilaterally does not provide security, and therefore is not a humanitarian corridor."

Ukraine's Stratcom Centre, under the Ministry of Culture and Information Policy, tweeted that because no agreement was formally reached with Russia, any such corridor will not be safe. Russian forces have already fired on numerous corridors, it added.

Officials are asking the United Nations secretary-general to "initiate and guarantee" a humanitarian corridor for civilians from Azovstal.

More than 100,000 people are believed to be trapped in the city with little food, water or heat, as the Associated Press has reported. That's according to Ukrainian authorities, who estimate that more than 20,000 civilians have been killed there over the last two months.

International

International security organization says staff members in Ukraine have been detained

Posted April 25, 2022 at 9:40 AM EDT
A white car with "OSCE" on the side drive through a city street.
Pierre Crom
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Getty Images
A convoy of OSCE (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe) vehicles drive through Kyiv, Ukraine on February 26. The organization said over the weekend that several staff members had been detained in the eastern part of the country.

The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) says members of its special monitoring mission in Ukraine have been detained in the eastern Donbas region.

Two top OSCE officials issued a joint statement Sunday calling for the immediate release of the four staff members. They did not specify who detained them, but said they are being held in the "non-government-controlled areas" of Donetsk and Luhansk.

Zbigniew Rau, the OSCE chairman-in-office and Polish foreign affairs minister, called their detention "unacceptable."

“They were taken for engaging in administrative activities that fall within their official functions as OSCE staff," he wrote. "They have been held without charge for a period of time now and the OSCE and their families have not been sufficiently informed of the situation.”

Officials also condemned what they called "deplorable acts of intimidation, harassment, and hostile public rhetoric against the SMM and mission staff" in the region, which has become the focus of Russia's renewed military offensive in recent weeks.

The OSCE had tweeted Saturday that a number of national mission members had been "deprived of their liberty" in Donetsk and Luhansk, and that it was "using all available channels to facilitate their release." In their statement, officials said they would not share any additional information out of concern for the staff members.

The OSCE calls itself the world's largest regional security-oriented intergovernmental organization, with 57 participating states in Europe, Asia and North America. It uses political dialogue and field operations to address issues like arms control, human rights, terrorism, human trafficking and democracy.

It has had a presence in Ukraine since March 2014 in the form of a special monitoring mission, which it describes as "an unarmed, civilian mission, present on the ground 24/7 in all regions of Ukraine." They focus primarily on observing and reporting objectively on the situation in Ukraine and facilitating dialogue between all involved parties.

The mandate for the mission actually expired on March 31, and OSCE member states were unable to reach a consensus on extending it (which the organization says is "owing to the position expressed by the Russian Federation").

As a result, the mission moved to "administrative mode" as of April 1. That means no mandated activities have taken place since then, and staff are only performing a limited number of essential administrative functions focused on the safety of "mission members, assets and premises."

OSCE Secretary General Helga Maria Schmid said that all of the national mission members remain OSCE officials and should be afforded functional immunity, even with the mandate having lapsed. She added:

"Their work has been crucial in many areas, including maintaining contacts with relevant stakeholders and civil society, and facilitating localized ceasefires for vital infrastructure repair, directly helping to alleviate human suffering."

International Dispatch
From Ukraine

Russia reportedly strikes five railway facilities in central and western Ukraine

Posted April 25, 2022 at 9:15 AM EDT

Russia fired missiles at five rail infrastructure targets this morning in central and western Ukraine, according to the national rail service.

Fatalities have been reported as a result of one strike in the Vinnytsia region in central Ukraine. Another missile struck a rail power substation near Lviv in western Ukraine.

Together, this morning’s strikes cut electricity to several rail lines, delaying passenger service on dozens of trains.

A Ukrainian anti-aircraft missile destroyed one of the incoming Russian missiles, according to Western command of the Ukrainian air force, which said the Russians fired the missiles from aircraft in the southeast of Ukraine.

While the Russian army tries to take territory in eastern and southern Ukraine, it continues to launch air attacks to damage infrastructure in the western half of the country.

On the ground

Some people are leaving Odesa after the weekend's deadly missile strike

Posted April 25, 2022 at 8:59 AM EDT
A first responder stands in front of a damaged apartment building.
Oleksandr Gimanov
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AFP via Getty Images
A rescuer stands in front of a damaged building in Odesa, which was reportedly hit by missile strike, on Sunday.



U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinkin and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy over the weekend in Kyiv, where they pledged more cash and more weapons.

While they did promise tangible support, NPR's Brian Mann says their visit — the first by top U.S. officials, and just weeks after the Russian army tried to capture Kyiv — was largely a symbolic gesture to show that the U.S. plans to stick by Ukraine.

Austin and Blinken also promised to boost military aid to Eastern Europe by another $700 million, including to help countries in the region support Ukraine with guns and ammunition. The heavy weaponry that the U.S. has recently promised Ukraine is also arriving in the country now, according to Austin.

Mann spoke toMorning Edition from the southern port city of Odesa, where missile strikes on an apartment building killed eight people — including a young mother and a 3-month-old child — over the weekend. Mann says the city had felt relatively safe during the last two months of the war, and the attack came as a shock on Orthodox Easter weekend.

Now, some people are leaving. They include Ira Volkova, who Mann spoke to as she was getting on an evacuation train to leave the city with her two young children Sunday night.

Volkova's husband is on the front lines, her father is in the hospital after being wounded during fighting and her brother is one of the defenders of Mariupol. They haven't heard anything about him in a month and are hoping for the best, she says.

It appears some Ukrainian soldiers dug in at the steel plant in Mariupol are still alive, Mann says. The Russian military says it's hitting hundreds of Ukrainian military targets, while the Ukrainian military claims to have retaken some territory in villages in the south around Kherson (which NPR has not been able to confirm).

Mann says it's "shaping up to be a slow, bloody grind," but there have been no major breakthroughs. The Ukrainians he talks to on the street, however, are hopeful. They believe their army has bought them enough time so that those bigger weapons can make their way into the country and into action.

Diplomacy

U.S. promises to gradually reestablish its diplomatic presence in Ukraine

Posted April 25, 2022 at 8:39 AM EDT
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy shake hands.
AP
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Ukrainian Presidential Press Office
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken shake hands during their meeting in Kyiv in this image provided by the Ukrainian Presidential Press Office on Monday.

The Biden administration is gradually sending diplomats back to Ukraine, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken informed the Ukrainians during a weekend visit to Kyiv.

The State Department will test the waters this week, with diplomats doing day trips into western Ukraine from their current base in Poland. The hope is that they will be able to travel to other parts of Ukraine in the days and weeks ahead and eventually reopen the embassy in Kyiv.

A State Department official says this will allow the Biden administration to coordinate more easily with partners in Ukraine.

The White House is also planning to nominate a new ambassador, after a long delay. Bridget Brink, career diplomat and current ambassador to Slovakia, has been tapped for the job. She’ll have to be confirmed by the Senate. (She would be the first official ambassador to Ukraine since 2019, when former President Donald Trump removed Marie Yovanovitch.)

Read more here.

Recap

Catch up on the weekend's biggest developments

Posted April 25, 2022 at 8:29 AM EDT
People take part in a church service.
Chris McGrath
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Getty Images
People take part in an Easter Sunday service at a church on Sunday in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine.

Here are some of the biggest updates out of Ukraine from Saturday and Sunday:

Eight people were killed in Odesa when Russian cruise missiles struck an apartment building, according to Ukrainian officials. A 3-month-old child was among those killed.

Satellite images show what appears to be a second mass grave site near Mariupol. The graves sit in a cemetery in the town of Vynohradne, a site that includes several parallel trenches measuring 131 feet each, according to satellite imagery provider Maxar Technologies. The photos follow the discovery of a myriad offreshly dug mass graves in the town of Manhush, 12 miles west of Mariupol.

An EU trade official told NPR that the economic impact of defending Ukraine against Russia's aggression is a price worth paying. European Commission Executive Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis said American and European aid to Ukraine — financial, military and humanitarian — was making a difference on the ground.

Ukraine's deputy prime minister announced plans for an evacuation corridor from the besieged city of Mariupol. Iryna Vereshchuk announced the attempt to evacuate women, children and the elderly. The push to evacuate Mariupol follows the Kremlin's claim that the military has captured the port city, but Russian forces have continued to face resistance.

Sunday was Orthodox Easter, and many Ukrainians marked the day with prayers for those who are trapped in places like Mariupol. At a service in the capital city of Kyiv, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy urged people not to let anger at the war overwhelm them.

Russian forces called in airstrikes on the besieged Azovstal steel factory in Mariupol to try to dislodge the last Ukrainian troops holding out there, Ukrainian officials said. If Mariupol were captured, it would deprive Ukraine of a vital port, free up Russian troops to fight elsewhere and establish a land corridor to the Crimean Peninsula.

And, as NPR's Michele Kelemen reports: Zelenskyy met with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin in Kyiv, the first time top U.S. officials have traveled to Ukraine since Russian forces began their invasion on Feb. 24.

You can find all of NPR's daily Ukraine recaps here and check out more context and in-depth stories here. Plus, listen and subscribe to NPR's State of Ukraine podcast for updates throughout the day.