War in Ukraine live updates: The U.S. calls for Russia's suspension from the U.N. Human Rights Council

Published April 4, 2022 at 8:29 AM EDT
The grim-faced Ukrainian president walks with members of the military through a rubble-strewn area.
Ronaldo Schemidt
AFP via Getty Images
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, at center without a helmet, walks in the town of Bucha, just northwest of the Ukrainian capital Kyiv on Monday. Images from Bucha have shown dead bodies on the streets after Russian troops withdrew.

Russian troops are mostly gone, leaving scenes of devastation: flattened apartment buildings, mass graves and bodies lying in the streets. Ukraine has launched an investigation, but some witnesses are reportedly so traumatized that they are physically unable to speak.

Here's what else we're following today:

A call for Russia's suspension from the Human Rights Council: The U.S. ambassador to the U.N. says Russia's participation is a "farce."

International reaction: Many world leaders are using the word "genocide" to describe Russia's actions in Ukraine, and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken says the U.S. is investigating possible war crimes.

Russia denies reports of civilian casualties: The Kremlin is calling allegations of atrocities carried out by Russian forces around the Ukrainian capital Kyiv a “provocation” by the West. 

Russian Sanctions

Spanish police and FBI seize a $90 million oligarch-owned superyacht

Posted April 4, 2022 at 1:50 PM EDT

Spanish officials seized a Russian-owned luxury yacht in Mallorca today at the request of the U.S. Department of Justice. It was the first coordinated seizure under the department’s Task Force KleptoCapture, which is tasked with enforcing the sweeping sanctions placed on Russia in response to its invasion of Ukraine.

The $90 million 255-foot yacht, named Tango, is owned by sanctioned Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg, who heads the Renova Group, a Russian conglomerate with interests in metallurgy, machinery, energy, telecommunications as well as others.

“Today marks our taskforce’s first seizure of an asset belonging to a sanctioned individual with close ties to the Russian regime. It will not be the last,” said Attorney General Merrick Garland in a statement. “Together, with our international partners, we will do everything possible to hold accountable any individual whose criminal acts enable the Russian government to continue its unjust war.”

The seizure was performed by Spanish Guardia Civil officers with assistance from the FBI.

U.S. officials allege that the Tango has been owned continuously by Vekselberg since 2011 and that he used shell companies to "obfuscate his interest in the Tango," the Justice Department said in a press release.

The release cites alleges bank fraud and money laundering as justification for the seizure, highlighting U.S. bank payments for support and maintenance of the vessel — including a December 2020 stay at a luxury water villa resort in the Maldives.

On the ground

About two-thirds of Russian troops have left Kyiv, an official says

Posted April 4, 2022 at 12:00 PM EDT

The U.S. estimates that about two-thirds of the Russian forces that were arrayed outside the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv have now pulled back, a senior defense department official said today. Those forces have headed north toward Belarus, and some have crossed over to that country.

The official said the U.S. assessment is that these troops will head into Donbas, the area on which Russian air and artillery strikes are focusing, specifically Izium. There is no evidence of other forces heading in from Georgia or Syria.

The official says the U.S. doesn’t know what Russia will do next with those forces but believes the most likely possibility is that they will be resupplied and sent to eastern Ukraine. The official said that one-third of Russia’s ground forces in the Kyiv area remain there, and the U.S. does not know what Russia’s plan is for those troops or its larger plans for Kyiv.

Regarding the evidence of Russian atrocities in Bucha, outside Kyiv, the official said only that the U.S. has seen the “deeply troubling” images of the killings in Bucha, and they should be investigated as part of the larger inquiry into Russian war crimes in Ukraine.

Imprisoned American

Trevor Reed's family says he's back in a Russian prison hospital but not getting care

Posted April 4, 2022 at 11:30 AM EDT
A poster hangs on a fence with the White House blurry in the background. It has a red background and shows a man in military uniform.
Patrick Semansky
A poster photo of U.S. Marine Corps veteran and Russian prisoner Trevor Reed is hung in Lafayette Park near the White House on Wednesday.

Trevor Reed started a hunger strike last week to protest his treatment in Russian prison, saying he was not being treated for possible tuberculosis and instead was sent to solitary confinement.

Now the family of the 30-year-old U.S. Marine veteran, who was detained in Russia in 2019, say he is being sent back to the prison medical facility "where he has been numerous times before and received no meaningful medical care." They allege that Russian authorities' recent statements about Reed getting tested and treated for tuberculosis are false and an attempt to manipulate the Western media after bad press in recent days.

In a statement shared by family spokesperson Jonathan Franks, Joey and Paula Reed said their son is experiencing "symptoms consistent with active tuberculosis" and has lost 7 pounds in five days as a result of his hunger strike — which began last Monday and was his second since November.

Russian media reported that Reed ended the strike on Friday, but Franks told NPR over email that he does not have enough reliable information to confirm that.

“The Reeds are not able to confirm an end to Trevor’s hunger strike," Franks wrote. "We would invite Russian authorities to let Trevor call his parents.”

The family also said they had consulted with Dr. Richard Waldhorn, a pulmonary specialist and former chair of the Department of Medicine at Georgetown University Medical Center, who advised them that untreated tuberculosis has a mortality rate of up to 70%.

“When we dropped our then 28-year-old off at the airport before he left for Russia, he was in excellent health and weighed about 160 pounds. Recently, at the prison ‘hospital’ he weighed 136 pounds," the Reeds wrote. "We worry every day that Trevor will become the next Otto Warmbier, and even if he doesn’t, that he will come home with lifelong consequences from Russian authorities’ inattention to his symptoms and their refusal to provide any meaningful medical care."

Warmbier was an American student who was detained in North Korea for over a year. When released, he was in a coma and died shortly afterwards.

Reed was detained during a trip to Russia in 2019 and was sentenced in 2020 to nine years in jail for assaulting a police officer.

He says he was drunk the night of the alleged incident and doesn't remember it, while his family says Russian officials fabricated the charge to use him as a bargaining chip with the U.S. John Sullivan, the U.S. ambassador to Russia, has called his trial "a theater of the absurd" and wrote that the evidence presented against him was so preposterous that "even the judge laughed."

Reed is being held in a correctional facility in the Republic of Mordovia, which his family says is about an eight-hour drive from Moscow. According to his parents, Reed had a "lengthy, close-contact exposure to a prisoner with active tuberculosis" in December and, unlike others in the facility, did not receive preventative care — or sufficient medical treatment as his health "rapidly deteriorated."

His family says the Kremlin "has effectively ignored or frustrated the Embassy’s ongoing, heroic efforts to ensure Trevor’s health and safety."

The Reeds have long pleaded for help from the U.S. government and publicly criticized President Biden last month after he didn't meet with them while on a trip to their hometown of Fort Worth, Texas.

They instead spoke with him by phone, and he promised his staff would schedule a meeting with them at the White House. After three weeks of waiting, the Reeds protested outside of the White House on Wednesday and have since said that they met with the president in the Oval Office for nearly 40 minutes later that day.

In their statement on Monday — five days after their audience with the president, the Reeds again implored the Biden administration to act with urgency, writing that "our son is out of time."

"We would like the Administration to take decisive action to bring Trevor home, including, but not limited to prisoner trades," Franks wrote.


Biden says atrocities in Bucha show Putin is a war criminal

Posted April 4, 2022 at 11:14 AM EDT
Biden speaks on a lawn.
Mandel Ngan
AFP via Getty Images
President Biden speaks to reporters upon arrival at Fort McNair in Washington, D.C. on Monday.

President Biden said on Monday that reports of mass graves in Bucha show that Russian President Vladimir Putin is a war criminal and said he would seek more sanctions.

“You saw what happened in Bucha,” Biden told reporters. “He is a war criminal. But we have to gather the information. We have to continue to provide Ukraine with the weapons they need to continue the fight. And we have to gather all the details, so this can be an actual — have a war crime trial,” he said.

“This guy is brutal. And what’s happening in Bucha is outrageous. And everyone’s seen it.”

Biden said he was seeking more sanctions but did not provide details.

World politics

Two pro-Putin leaders win reelection in Europe

Posted April 4, 2022 at 10:43 AM EDT
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, left, and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic shake hands after a joint press conference in Belgrade in 2020. Both men won re-election over the weekend.
Andrej Isakovic
AFP via Getty Images
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban (left) and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic shake hands after a joint press conference in Belgrade in 2020. Both men won reelection over the weekend.

Two far-right political leaders friendly with Russian President Vladimir Putin have won reelection in Europe, even as Moscow’s largely unpopular war in Ukraine drags on.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban easily sailed to victory against a coalition of political opponents from both the left and right, and in Serbia, President Aleksandar Vucic was projected to win a second term with a majority of votes.

Though much of the European Union and the world have condemned Russia over its ongoing war in Ukraine, the two victories suggest that some Europeans still back nationalist leaders with close ties to the Kremlin.

Orban, who has called for peace in Ukraine, also used his victory speech to characterize Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy as an “opponent” of Hungary. Orban’s Fidesz party took 135 seats in the 199-seat parliament, compared to an expected 56 seats for the opposition.

Vucic, meanwhile, has boasted about his personal ties to Putin and refused to sanction Russia after it invaded Ukraine earlier this year, The Associated Press reported.

Mass graves

Russia denies civilian deaths in Bucha, despite evidence

Posted April 4, 2022 at 9:49 AM EDT

Russia is calling allegations of atrocities carried out by Russian forces around the Ukrainian capital Kyiv a “provocation” by the West. 

Since the beginning of what Russia calls its “special military operation” in Ukraine, the Kremlin has argued that reports of civilian causalities are either faked or carried out by Ukrainian nationalists in an effort to blacken Russia’s name.

On Monday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, "We categorically deny” any role in civilian deaths and said it “did not trust” video of civilians killed in Bucha after Russia’s military determined the materials showed signs of manipulation.

Any information on deaths of civilians in Bucha "should be met with serious doubt," said Peskov in his daily call with reporters.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov went further — calling the events in Bucha a "fake attack" with bodies "staged" for social media.

On Sunday, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova insisted the latest reports of mass killings in Bucha and other towns outside the capital Kyiv were part of a wider plot “ordered” by the U.S. and its allies.

Zakharova said the immediate Western outcry and extensive media coverage signaled a coordinated effort to smear Russian armed forces and undermine peace talks. Faced with growing international demands to investigate Russian troops over alleged war crimes in Ukraine, Russia has said it will convene the U.N. Security Council to discuss the "provocation" and announced it will conduct its own probe into civilian deaths.


U.S. ambassador to the U.N. calls for Russia's suspension from the Human Rights Council

Posted April 4, 2022 at 9:30 AM EDT
A Black woman in a pink jacket speaks from a podium, broadcast on two screens, in front of a large auditorium of people.
John Minchillo
Linda Thomas-Greenfield, United States ambassador to the United Nations, speaks during a meeting of the U.N. General Assembly on March 23 in New York.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield will seek to remove Russia from the U.N. Human Rights Council.

In a press conference in Bucharest, Romania, today, Thomas-Greenfield called Russian participation a “farce” and said Russia should not have a position of authority on the council.

Thomas-Greenfield said she will bring the matter before the Security Council on Wednesday immediately after returning to New York, and expects the General Assembly to take up the issue as early as Thursday. In early March, 140 U.N. member states voted for a resolution condemning Russia for its invasion of Ukraine and demanding the withdrawal of military forces.

Thomas-Greenfield has been on a tour of Moldova and Romania, visiting refugee centers and speaking with local officials, NGOs and refugees. She made her remarks at Bucharest’s Gara de Nord train station, a transit center for Ukrainians fleeing through Romania. According to the U.N., more than 4 million refugees have left Ukraine since the Russian invasion, and 643,058 had entered Romania as of Sunday.

In an interview shortly after her speech, Thomas-Greenfield told NPR’s Michel Martin that Russia should be held to a higher standard as a permanent member of the Security Council, and yet “has done everything they can to, in my view, damage the international order and to compromise the U.N. values; compromise the Human Rights Council.” She vowed to hold them accountable, including through a suspension from the council.

“It’s more than symbolic, and it does have force because it continues what we have started, that is to isolate Russia and call them out for what they are doing,” she said. “They have a narrative that what they are doing is normal. This is not normal. It is not acceptable, and they will hear from the entire world that we will not continue to allow their misinformation, their propaganda, to be used on a U.N. platform.”

Hear the full interview on NPR’s All Things Considered this afternoon on your local station or through the NPR One app.


Former U.N. war crimes prosecutor says it's time to focus on actions, not labels

Posted April 4, 2022 at 9:25 AM EDT
A man in a suit stands up while speaking.
Jerod Harris
Getty Images for PTTOW!
Pierre-Richard Prosper served under President George W. Bush as the U.S. ambassador-at-large for war crimes.

As international observers react with horror to the graphic images coming out of the Kyiv region, many — like the leaders of Spain and Poland — are using the word "genocide" to describe Russia's actions in Ukraine, and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken says the U.S. is investigating possible war crimes.

Those specific terms carry legal weight and are typically appended after a formal determination process. What does that look like when atrocities are being carried out in real time, and what action can the international community take for now?

Morning Edition's Rachel Martin posed those questions to Pierre-Richard Prosper, a war crimes prosecutor for the U.N. International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda who later served under President George W. Bush as the U.S. ambassador-at-large for war crimes.

Listen to their full conversation here.

Citing the reports coming out of Ukraine, Prosper says it does appear that Russia has committed war crimes.

"We're seeing, effectively, the unlawful killing of civilians, we're seeing potential acts of torture, rape — all the things that are outlawed by the Geneva Conventions and the laws of war," he says.

He says now is not the moment to focus on labels — because the analysis and determination takes time — but rather to focus on the actions themselves.

"It is clear that atrocities are being committed; it is clear that, based on reports, there are violations of the laws of war, and that should be sufficient for nations — not just the West, not just the United States but the entire international community — to act," Prosper says, adding that the international community has taken actions in the past when civilians have been in harm's way and that this case should not be any different.

That could look like continuing to support the Ukrainian government, giving its military the materials needed to defend itself and continuing to "shine a light on the actions of the Russian government, because we have to make sure that this is undeniable."

Prosper says that if the entire global community condemns and pressures the Russian government, there could be changes in behavior, more accountability and potentially even more dissent from inside Russia.

As Martin points out, Russia has already called the images coming out of Bucha and other towns deliberate Ukrainian provocations. So how can the world hold Russia accountable by a process it is likely to claim is illegitimate?

Prosper says this kind of Russia propaganda is expected but can be met with objective analysis and action by the rest of the world.

"We've been here before, and with every war we've heard this exact same rhetoric," he says. "But I think what we have here is we have the fact that the media is present, we have NGOs, human rights groups that are present, I'm sure that the United States and other nations have detailed satellite imagery and other information that could be put forth to the relevant bodies."

Worldwide reaction

During Grammy speech, President Zelenskyy urges musicians to speak up about Ukraine

Posted April 4, 2022 at 9:11 AM EDT

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy made a surprise video appearance during Sunday night’s Grammy Awards ceremony.

"What is more opposite to music [than] the silence of ruined cities and killed people?" Zelenskyy asked in his speech.

"Our musicians wear body armor instead of tuxedos. They sing to the wounded in hospitals, even to those who can't hear them, but the music will break through anyway."

Zelenskyy’s appeal was followed by a performance by John Legend and two Ukrainian musicians dressed in the colors of the country’s flag.

Read more on Zelenskyy's speech here.

On the ground

Ukrainian troops returning to the Kyiv area discover mass graves and other atrocities

Posted April 4, 2022 at 8:33 AM EDT

Editor's note: This post contains language and images that some might find disturbing.

Body bags lie in a mass grave, with a white church with gold domes in the distance.
Sergei Supinsky
AFP via Getty Images
A mass grave is seen behind a church in the town of Bucha, northwest of the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, on Sunday.

Ukrainian troops are retaking the town of Bucha and other small villages outside of Kyiv now that Russian forces have pulled out (though they're still launching missiles at targets in the area).

They're returning to scenes of devastation: flattened apartment buildings, mass graves and dead bodies lying in the streets.

Prosecutor General Iryna Venedyktova said Sunday that officials found the bodies of 410 civilians in the Kyiv region and that about 140 had already been examined by prosecutors and other specialists as part of an investigation into possible Russian war crimes.

She said they would need to interview witnesses, but — according to a Reuters translation — some people are so traumatized that they are physically unable to speak. Meanwhile, Ukraine's leaders and the international community are calling for accountability.

"Sadly I think this is just the start," NPR's Nathan Rott tellsMorning Edition from Kyiv. "These images that we're seeing of bodies that appear to be badly burnt, bodies that appear to have been tied with their hands behind their back, are going to be the conversation in Ukraine for a while."

He recalls the timeline: Russian troops invaded these towns in the first days of the war, were stopped by Ukrainian forces and began withdrawing from the region last week during the latest round of peace talks (which Russia has called a gesture of goodwill and sign of their sincerity about the negotiations). Now Ukrainian troops are returning to the region for the first time in weeks.

Russia claims these images are fake — but Rott has talked to people who have been in these towns over the past few days and says it's very clear that there are dead bodies in civilian clothing there. Human Rights Watch also released a report yesterday detailing multiple incidents that appear to be war crimes, and Rott says he expects more such reports are coming as Ukrainian forces move into other towns.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken told CNN's State of the Union over the weekend that the U.S. is investigating possible war crimes by Russia.

Ukraine has been calling for military help from the U.S. and other Western allies since before the war started, Rott points out, especially when it comes to equipment like fighter jets and anti-aircraft systems.

The U.S. has been providing some support. But, Rott says, if the images from Bucha and the ongoing fighting in cities like Kharkiv and Mariupol aren't enough to move the needle for more Western involvement, Ukrainians believe it's hard to know what will.