Ukraine closes humanitarian corridors because it says Russia may attack them: Live updates

Published March 28, 2022 at 8:16 AM EDT
A woman and her dog are seen behind the smashed windscreen of her car at an evacuation point in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine, on Friday.
Chris McGrath
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Getty Images
A woman and her dog are seen behind the smashed windscreen of her car after arriving at an evacuation point in a large convoy of cars and buses carrying hundreds of people evacuated from Mariupol and Melitopol on Friday in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine.

Ukraine is shutting down humanitarian corridors, citing intelligence that there may be Russian provocations along them.

Here's what we're following today:

A change in Russia's strategy: Ukrainian military intelligence says the Kremlin wants tosplit off Ukrainian territories in the east, what the Ukrainians call a "Korean scenario."

Russians can use Facebook and Instagram: The sites are blocked inside Russia, but those who circumvent the block can use the site as long as they don't post prohibited content.

Weekend recap: U.S. officials continued to clarify President Biden's words that Russian President Vladimir Putin "cannot remain in power."

Military

U.S. military assistance flows into Ukraine daily, a senior U.S. defense official says

Posted March 28, 2022 at 1:01 PM EDT
A serviceman of Ukrainian military forces holds a FGM-148 Javelin near Kharkiv on March 23.
Sergey Bobok
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AFP via Getty Images
A serviceman of Ukrainian military forces holds a FGM-148 Javelin, an American-made portable anti-tank missile, at a checkpoint near Kharkiv on March 23. The U.S. is planning to send more weapons into Ukraine.

A senior U.S. defense official says the U.S. continues to send military assistance into Ukraine on a daily basis. The U.S. has already started sending in weapons from the $800 million package that the Biden administration announced on March 16. The official said the U.S. is prioritizing the weapons (rather than other nonlethal equipment).

The official declined to provide specifics, but the Pentagon has announced that this package includes large numbers of Javelin missiles used against Russian tanks, Stinger anti-aircraft missiles used against low-flying aircraft, as well as new items, Switchblade drones. (Read more here about these terms and other vocabulary that the war has reintroduced us to.)

The weapons are being sent into western Ukraine from neighboring countries such as Poland. While Russia has carried out missile strikes in western Ukraine, near the border with Poland, this has not disrupted the flow of weapons, the official said.

“We have not seen any attempted interdictions on the ground in Ukraine,” the official said.

Also, some of the heaviest fighting continues to take place in the southern port city of Mariupol. “We continue to see Mariupol getting slammed by long-range fire,” the official said, adding that the city is nearly surrounded by Russian troops. “The Ukrainians are under incredible pressure by the Russians,” but Ukrainian forces are still in control of the city.

Europe

German states outlaw displays of the letter 'Z,' a symbol of Russia's war in Ukraine

Posted March 28, 2022 at 12:16 PM EDT
The letter "Z" appears on an electronic billboard on a rainy city street.
Olga Maltseva
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AFP via Getty Images
A screen on the roof of a building in central St. Petersburg, Russia, displays the symbol "Z" and a slogan reading: "We don't give up on our people" on Friday.

Two German states have outlawed public displays of the letter "Z," which has become synonymous with support for Russia's war in Ukraine.

Authorities in Bavaria and Lower Saxony said over the weekend that anyone who displays the symbol at public demonstrations or paints it on cars or buildings could face a fine or up to three years in jail, the English-language site The Local reports. And an Interior Ministry spokesperson told reporters on Monday that people throughout Germany who display the letter to endorse Russia's aggression could be liable to prosecution.

"The Russian war of aggression on the Ukraine is a criminal act, and whoever publicly approves of this war of aggression can also make himself liable to prosecution," the spokesperson said at a news conference, according to Reuters.

The letter "Z" — which is part of the Latin alphabet but not the Cyrillic one used in Russian — first appeared on tanks and other military vehicles massing near Russia's border with Ukraine, possibly as a way to distinguish them from Ukrainian forces.

Once the invasion began, "Z" was hard to miss. The letter was featured across social media and was plastered on billboards and stickers throughout Russia. Even outside of the country, the symbol has appeared on clothing.

Its origins may be mysterious, as NPR has reported, but its symbolism is clear: It represents support for Russia's war in Ukraine, both at home and abroad.

Chapter 140 of Germany's criminal code recognizes "incitement to crime of aggression" as an offense, according to Ukrainian state news agency Ukrinform. The Local reports that there have been displays of "Z" in both Lower Saxony and Bavaria.

In announcing the decision, Bavarian Justice Minister Georg Eisenreich said that freedom of thought “ends where criminal law begins."

"The Bavarian Public Prosecutor's Office is taking consistent action against persons, who publicly approve the war of aggression that violates international law," he said, according to Ukrinform. "Russian President [Vladimir] Putin has launched a criminal war of aggression that is inflicting terrible suffering on the Ukrainian people, so the Bavarian judicial system is watching closely."

Politics

Biden's comment about Putin should have been more nuanced, Democratic Sen. Reed says

Posted March 28, 2022 at 12:00 PM EDT
Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., is pictured on Capitol Hill on March 3.
Tom Williams
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Pool/Getty Images
Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., is pictured on Capitol Hill on March 3.

Sen. Jack Reed, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said President Biden's unscripted remarks that Russian President Vladimir Putin “cannot remain in power” should have been more nuanced.

The Rhode Island Democrat spoke with NPR's Morning Edition about the comments and how the war in Ukraine might end. Read the highlights below and listen to the full conversation here.


On Biden’s comments saying Putin shouldn’t remain in power

A more nuanced approach would have been better… The administration, quite properly, and indeed the president, when he was leaving Mass [on Sunday], indicated that, no, he does not intend for regime change. That's never been part of our calculation, nor of NATO's calculation. I think the Russians understand that from the issue of what we've done and how we've tried to do it.

On the possibility of Russia using chemical weapons in Ukraine

It's very real because they have the capability of doing that. And initially, Putin made all sorts of outrageous claims about weapons of mass destruction. So we have to be prepared and our intelligence is extensively focused on this possibility. And I think that preparation and also the implications that we've already given that we would not treat this lightly are critical, I think, to preempting it.

On U.S. options

The sanctions will take awhile to work. That's one of the difficulties of imposing sanctions. I think we have to continue to support the Ukrainian military forces with air defense systems, with anti-tank systems. I think we have to continue to support them on a NATO-wide basis with intelligence. We also have to provide the ammunition and the basic stocks of supplies they need so that they can continue to fight. And we hope we get to a position where forces within Russia, either because of the economic deprivation or because of continued loss of life and this stalemate, decide that it's time to seek a negotiated agreement.

On how the war might end

So much depends upon what they're doing on the ground. If they continue to effectively upset Russian plans and do so in a dramatic manner, Russia's not in a very good bargaining position … The best way is to find that off-ramp where there is some cover for Putin. I think there's been discussions about would Ukraine agree not to join NATO but would still expect and demand to receive support from Western allies militarily.

Video

Defenders of Mariupol remain steadfast, but Ukraine may compromise on the Donbas region

Posted March 28, 2022 at 11:25 AM EDT

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has revealed he offered the defenders of Mariupol the option to retreat, but they declined.

They refused to abandon their dead or wounded, Zelenskyy said in an interview with independent Russian journalists on Sunday. (Read more here about what Mariupol means for Ukraine, and what it would mean for Russia to capture it.)

Zelenskyy also said Ukraine was ready for compromise on the eastern Donbas region, which has been partially controlled by Russia-backed separatists since 2014.

“It’s impossible to make Russia give up the territory completely,” he admitted.

Zelenskyy’s latest remarks come as Ukraine and Russia said cease-fire negotiations would resume on Tuesday.

Impact

Finland suspends the last train service between Russia and the EU

Posted March 28, 2022 at 10:59 AM EDT
People wearing coats and carrying luggage stand on a platform next to a train with the name "Allegro" on the side.
Roni Rekomaa
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Lehtikuva/AFP via Getty Images
Passengers disembark from an Allegro train from St. Petersburg, Russia, at the central railway station in Helsinki, Finland, on Sunday.

The train that runs between Helsinki and St. Petersburg made its final trips on Sunday, marking the apparent end of rail service between Europe and Russia.

Finland's national railway operator, VR, announced on Friday that it would discontinue the Allegro train service because of the sanctions imposed on Russia following its invasion of Ukraine. The suspension takes effect today.

“Thus far we have been continuing the Allegro train services, according to the instructions by the relevant authorities and hence making sure that we can provide a safe passage to the Finnish citizens," Topi Simola, VR Group's senior vice president for passenger service, said in a statement. "During these weeks, the people, who have wanted to depart from Russia, have had adequate time to leave. Now, due to the sanctions we will discontinue the service for now."

AFP reported that tickets on Allegro trains have regularly sold out in recent weeks, with many Russians eager to leave the country before sanctions further restrict their movement (airspace closures have already grounded many direct flights to Europe).

Finland's national broadcaster, YLE, interviewed passengers from the final train as they disembarked in Helsinki on Sunday night. Many of the travelers live outside of Russia and spoke of the difficulty and uncertainty of not knowing when they will be able to see their friends and loved ones there again.

"The world will never be the same again," said a woman identified only as Natalya, who lives in Canada and had gone to visit her family in Moscow while it was still possible. "That's just too sad."

The high-speed train connects the Russian port city to Finland's capital, in a 3 1/2-hour trip. AFP reports that the Allegro was lauded as a symbol of partnership between the two countries when it first opened in 2010, with Russian President Vladimir Putin and his then-counterpart Tarja Halonen traveling on the inaugural journey together.

On the ground

Ukraine warns of Russian provocations along humanitarian corridors

Posted March 28, 2022 at 10:15 AM EDT
A destroyed car in Byshiv, outside Kyiv, on Sunday. Ukrainian officials are warning of Russian provocations along humanitarian corridors Monday.
Anastasia Vlasova
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Getty Images
A car is left destroyed in Byshiv, outside Kyiv, on Sunday. Ukrainian officials are warning of Russian provocations along humanitarian corridors Monday.

LVIV, Ukraine — Ukraine will not open any humanitarian corridors for civilians today as Russia continues to shell and bomb cities. Ukrainian officials are warning of Russian provocations and closed the corridors for safety reasons.

Over the last couple of weeks, Ukraine and Russia have regularly agreed to and established humanitarian corridors from some of the hardest-hit cities in the country — including Mariupol and Sumy, which have been surrounded and shelled incessantly by Russian forces.

Ukraine's deputy prime minister said no corridors would be opened on Monday because intelligence reports warn of Russian provocations along routes.

Russian troops have previously fired on agreed-upon humanitarian corridors.

Roughly 10 million people — a quarter of Ukraine's population — have been displaced in the war. Hundreds of thousands could still be sheltering in hard-hit cities.

International Dispatch
In Ukraine

After a month of defense against Russia, Ukraine says it's launching counteroffensives

Posted March 28, 2022 at 10:01 AM EDT
A picture taken Sunday shows destroyed Russian military equipment in the village of Bachtanka near Mykolaiv, a key city on the road to Odessa.
Oleksandr Gimanov
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AFP via Getty Images
A picture taken Sunday shows destroyed Russian military equipment in the village of Bachtanka near Mykolaiv, a key city on the road to Odesa.

DNIPRO, Ukraine — After weeks of defending against Russian attacks, Ukrainian military officials say they’re now launching counteroffensives to try to retake territory seized by Russian troops.

The counterattacks are being launched mainly in the southeast and east of Ukraine.

A regional spokesperson for the Ukrainian territorial defense in the strategic hub of Dnipro, Major Andriy Shulga, says the Kremlin’s tactics appear to be shifting. After a month of aggressively moving forward, Shulga says Russian forces are now digging in defensively in many of the areas they’ve occupied.

Shulga says Ukraine has already launched successful counterattacks against Russia, Shulga, says.

Russian forces now control much of Ukraine’s southern coast and territory along the eastern border with Russia. But Shulga says the Russians appear to be overstretched, and he declares that Ukraine won’t let them move in his words “one step closer” to the center of the country.

Media

Russia’s award-winning 'Novaya Gazeta' suspends operations, citing official warnings

Posted March 28, 2022 at 9:19 AM EDT
Nobel Peace Prize laureate Dmitry Muratov of Russia reacts as he stands on the balcony of the Grand Hotel in Oslo to greet wellwishers on December 10, 2021, following the Nobel Peace Prize gala award ceremony. - Investigative journalists Maria Ressa of the Philippines and Dmitry Muratov of Russia won the prestigious award in October for their work promoting freedom of expression at a time when liberty of the press is increasingly under threat. (Photo by Odd ANDERSEN / AFP) (Photo by ODD ANDERSEN/AFP via Getty Images)
Odd Andersen
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AFP via Getty Images
'Novaya Gazeta' Editor-in-Chief Dmitry Muratov receives the Nobel Peace Prize last year.

Russian independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta is suspending its publications in print and online, after receiving a second warning notice from media regulator Roskomnadzor in the past week.

Novaya is among the last major independent news outlet to be operating in Russia.

The editors said via Telegram that they will stop publishing the paper until Russia’s “special operation on the territory of Ukraine” is over — mirroring the Kremlin’s official terminology for the war it’s waging on Ukraine. In recent weeks, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s regime has moved to tighten its control of the narrative about the war for Russia’s domestic audience.

Novaya Gazeta says it was warned by Roskomnadzor that it had not applied a required “foreign agent” tag to some its reporting, but it adds that the regulator did not provide any precise details about the omission. It also noted that under Russian law, two official notices in one year can provide the legal underpinning to revoke a media outlet's license.

The newspaper is one of at least two Russian outlets that reportedly briefly published information about Russian journalists’ joint interview with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Sunday. Roskomnadzor issued a special notice forbidding Russian media outlets from publishing the results of that interview.

Novaya Gazeta’s editor-in-chief, Dmitry Muratov, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize last year. He recently said he would auction the medal and donate the proceeds to help Ukrainian refugees.

Good news

A bunch of kangaroos (and maybe wallabies) were rescued from a hard-hit Kharkiv zoo

Posted March 28, 2022 at 9:13 AM EDT

A Ukrainian man is garnering global praise after he drove a van full of marsupials out of a shelled zoo to safety — but they weren't the only animals to be rescued from this particular facility in recent weeks.

The Feldman Ecopark in the hard-hit city of Kharkiv is working to evacuate all of its animals after weeks of deadly attacks by Russian forces. It's been posting updates to its Facebook page in Ukrainian and English and shared an uplifting one on Saturday: A group of kangaroos taken out of the park two days earlier had finally made it to safety.

"This is very nice, because their enclosures, unfortunately, were repeatedly shelled," park officials wrote. "We believe that now they will be fine!"

Video of the driver, speaking and pointing the camera toward the animals huddled in the back of the hay-filled van, took off on social media. Ukraine's foreign ministry later shared it on Twitter.

Both the ecopark and the foreign ministry described the animals as kangaroos, though many Reddit users noted there appeared to be at least some wallabies in the mix.

Previous posts on Ecopark's Facebook page detail its efforts to provide food and aid to Kharkiv residents while incrementally evacuating its animal charges. They previously said it is home to some 5,000 animals and more than 300 species.

Officials have shared maps, photos and updates showing how hard the park has been hit by Russian shelling. After weeks of continuous strikes, they wrote earlier this month that their main goal was to get as many animals as possible out of the park, which required building temporary enclosures in a safer location.

"We need to do what we have created in the Ecopark over 10 years in a few days," they wrote in one post.

The park has sustained heavy losses in the past month. Some staff members were killed by shelling when they tried to feed animals in their enclosures. Animals who survived attacks are hungry — as food supplies are lacking and it is hard for employees to get to them for feedings — and scared, officials say.

They have not provided full tallies but have announced and mourned the casualties in individual updates. Those include nine noble deer (others ran away to a nearby forest after their enclosures were hit), at least two orangutans and a chimpanzee, four fallow deer and three Welsh goats, which the park said join a long list of victims including large cats, primates, ungulates, marsupials and birds.

But there have been success stories, too.

Three weeks ago, in a break between bombings, employees and volunteers park managed to rescue a large group of animals — including turtles, chimpanzees and cubs, gibbons, lemurs and a variety of birds — and bring them to safer locations, including their own homes and that of the park's founder.

In separate instances, they also evacuated four orangutans, nine chimps and 22 alpacas, as well as three rare bear macaque sisters and a lion named Simba.

Another video clip shows a man who appears to be the same driver from the kangaroo video, behind the wheel of a van filled with turtles and monkeys. (The English translation of the caption says evacuating the turtles was no small feat, as they weigh some 220 pounds each.)

In one update, an employee describes saving some monkeys and another young lion. He said he wanted to take more animals but — according to Facebook's English translation — came under fire shortly after entering the park.

In its post on Saturday, the ecopark thanked the volunteers and employers "who take risks to save animals," as well as supportive individuals, businesses and organizations who are donating to make its rescue operations possible.

"Your support truly saves lives!" they added, pointing people to donation details on their website.

Social Media

Moscow court says Russians can still use Instagram and Facebook, if they behave

Posted March 28, 2022 at 8:42 AM EDT
A photo taken on March 14 shows the Instagram logo on a smartphone screen in Moscow.
AFP
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via Getty Images
A photo taken on March 14 shows the Instagram logo on a smartphone screen in Moscow.

The Moscow court that banned Meta — Facebook and Instagram’s parent company — for alleged extremist activities clarified its stance on Monday, saying Russians can use the platforms as long as they don’t do anything illegal.

The Tverskoy District Court’s new ruling comes one week after the court said Meta is “extremist” for suspending its content rules in some cases to allow people to call for violence against the Russian military and President Vladimir Putin, in light of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Russian authorities had already blocked access to Facebook and Instagram as part of the government’s dispute with Meta over Facebook’s limits on propaganda outlets and Instagram’s stance on calls for violence.

With the new ruling, Russians who circumvent the official block on Facebook and Instagram won’t have to worry about repercussions, as long as they don’t post prohibited content, according to the pro-Kremlin newspaper Izvestia.

Many Russians have turned to virtual private networks, or VPNs, to get around the bans. The day before the Instagram ban took effect, on March 14, Russians’ interest in setting up a VPN shot up by more than 2,000% compared with the average day in the week before the invasion of Ukraine, according to Top10VPN, a digital privacy company.

Recap

What you might have missed this weekend

Posted March 28, 2022 at 8:15 AM EDT
Someone walks down an alleyway with a Ukrainian flag hanging off a building, towards a pillar of black smoke in the sky.
Joe Raedle
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Getty Images
Smoke pours from a fire at an industrial facility after Russian military attack in the area on Saturday in Lviv, Ukraine.

Welcome to Monday. If you took a break from the news this weekend, it's the perfect time to quickly catch up on some of the biggest Russia/Ukraine updates and analysis, courtesy of NPR's daily recaps.

Here are some of those developments:

Read the Saturday recap here

  • Russian forces attacked the western Ukrainian city of Lviv on Saturday evening local time, just one day after its military announced it would refocus its strategy on the eastern part of Ukraine.
  • President Biden met with Ukraine's defense minister, Oleksii Reznikov, and its foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, in Warsaw, Poland, as the U.S. continues to show support for the besieged nation one month after Russia's invasion.
  • Russian forces are being met by Ukrainian protesters in the cities they invade. Across the border in Poland, protesters also gathered in the streets to protest in support of Ukraine.

Read the Sunday recap here

  • U.S. officials continued to clarify President Biden's words that Russian President Vladimir Putin "cannot remain in power."
  • Russian forces allegedly damaged another Holocaust memorial in Ukraine. Russian invaders fired on Drobitsky Yar, a memorial site outside of Kharkiv, said Ukraine's Ministry of Defense.
  • The Ukraine separatist region of Luhansk will hold a vote to join Russia. The head of the so-called Luhansk People's Republic — one of two breakaway Ukrainian regions that Russia has supported militarily since 2014 — expects local residents will decide to join Russia in an annexation referendum he says will happen soon.

You can also stay up to date and go deeper with NPR's State of Ukraine podcast, which drops multiple short episodes every weekday.

On the ground

Ukrainian officials warn that Russia could try to split the country in two

Posted March 28, 2022 at 8:09 AM EDT
A woman walks down a city street, past a red and white illustration of a boot on Russian President Vladimir Putin's face.
Joe Raedle
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Getty Images
A person walks past an anti-Russian sign Sunday in Lviv, Ukraine, a day after several missiles hit the city.

More than a month into the war, Russian forces are continuing to bombard much of Ukraine with air, artillery and missile strikes. But there are signs that the Kremlin may be changing its objectives and shifting its focus toward securing control over the eastern part of the country.

In fact, the head of Ukrainian military intelligence is warning that Russia could be trying to split the country in two by creating a separate political entity in the Russian-occupied regions in the east. They're calling it "a Korean scenario," as NPR's Elissa Nadworny explains to Morning Edition from Lviv.

She says their reasoning is that there's a significant Russian population in eastern Ukraine and that Russia could seek some kind of referendum to take those regions into their own control. But, she notes, Ukrainian officials are pushing for more negotiations with Russia — including over this disputed territory.

Listen to more from Nadworny on where things stand now.

Attacks reach the west, but may be on hold in Kyiv

Nadworny says Russia's assault on Kyiv appears to be on hold at least for now, but forces are still hitting heavily-bombarded cities like Mariupol in the south and Chernihiv in the north.

The weekend saw multiple attacks in western Ukraine, which has been a relative safe haven for many diplomats, refugees and journalists over the past month. Russian strikes hit several strategic locations in Lviv, mainly fuel storage and military repair facilities. And missiles also hit as President Biden was speaking just across the border in Poland, an incident Lviv's mayor described as "a hello to Biden."

Amid the fallout from Biden's speech, Ukrainians are focused on the substance

The president spoke in Warsaw on Saturday and allegedly went off-script to denounce Russian President Vladimir Putin in what many observers interpreted as a call for regime change (which the White House quickly denied).

"For God's sake, this man cannot remain in power," Biden said, a line that reportedly wasn't in his prepared remarks and appeared poised to overshadow his entire European trip.

Nadworny says most Ukrainians were focused on the substance of his speech — in which he reasserted solidarity with Ukraine and described the impact of economic sanctions on Russia — and are actually disappointed.

For example, they want a no-fly zone to prevent Russian forces from bombing their country, an idea that NATO and the U.S. have said is off the table. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy appealed to Western leaders again after the speech for more help and more sophisticated anti-aircraft systems.

The humanitarian crisis continues

Meanwhile, the U.N. says that more than 3 million people have been forced to flee Ukraine, with some 10 million displaced from their homes.

Ukrainian officials are working to establish more evacuation routes. They had some success over the weekend, helping civilians escape from places like Mariupol.

Alina Beskrovna fled Mariupol after being trapped there for weeks. She shared her story with NPR's Debbie Elliot and spoke about sheltering in a basement with dozens of people, cooking over an open fire and eating lunch by flashlight.

"We would haul water from a well about 3 miles away," she said. "We would cook on open fires. Under very heavy shelling, we stayed in the most inner part of the basement just hoping to survive."

Hear more from Beskrovna here.