War in Ukraine live updates: Germany seizes the world's biggest yacht

Published April 14, 2022 at 8:17 AM EDT
A massive yacht sails away from the camera in blue waters.
Clive Brunskill
Getty Images
The Dilbar, owned by Alisher Usmanov, sails by the Monte Carlo Country Club in Monaco in 2017.

Authorities seized the Dilbar, worth between $600 and $735 million, at the port of Hamburg after determining that a Russian oligarch had transferred its ownership to his sister — who is also facing Western sanctions.

Here's what else we're following today:

The Moskva suffers heavy damage: The crew of Russia's flagship missile cruiser had to be evacuated after what Ukraine says was a strike by its Neptune cruise missiles. Russia says it was a fire.

The Kremlin's shifting strategy: Russian President Vladimir Putin appears to havescaled back his military aims — at least for now.

Venues for potential war crimes trials: President Biden and several allies have accused Russia of committing war crimes, but few courts exist where such cases could be prosecuted.

Acts of protest

Russian artist faces prison for replacing store price tags with anti-war facts

Posted April 14, 2022 at 12:30 PM EDT

A woman in St. Petersburg has been jailed on allegations that she replaced price tags at a local supermarket with messages opposing the war in Ukraine.

Artist and musician Aleksandra, or Sasha, Skochilenko could potentially face up to 10 years in prison. A district court ruled this week to detain her until the end of May, pending a trial on charges of spreading "knowingly false information about the use of the Russian armed forces.”

A new Russian law, passed in March, criminalizes messages and information perceived as “discrediting” Russian troops. Russian authorities have similarly banned the use of terms “war” or “invasion” to describe what the Kremlin calls its “special military operation” in Ukraine.

The law has enabled a crackdown on most Russianindependent media outlets, social media discussion of Russian casualties and street protests. This has included arrests of people over more obscure violations of the law, such as silent actions featuring a copy of Lev Tolstoy’s classic War and Peace or a poster saying “*** *****” as a non-verbal nod at the banned “нет войне” or “no to war.”

Some activists and artists have turned to stealthier protests. Photos from grocery stores in Kazan, St. Petersburg and other cities showed price tags for glue sticks, coffee and candy bars switched for reports about Ukraine, such as the number of humanitarian convoys unable to reach cities under fire. Several artists have been fined or detained for adding anti-war signs to merchandise in stores.

Skochilenko, known for her anti-war music and hand-drawn cards, had reportedly placed a price tag that said 400 people were sheltering in the basement during the bombing of a Mariupol art school. Ukrainian officials said Russian troops shelled the building on March 20; the Kremlin blamed the incident on Ukraine. Skochilenko’s lawyer has said that a shopper reported the protester’s tag swap to police.

Russian prosecutors are accusing Skochilenko of “political hostility.” The court, in deciding to detain her for weeks until her trial, ruled that the activist was a flight risk. Amnesty International has called for her release.

“The purpose of this is to scare and to ensure silence. It’s important to create the appearance that everyone supports this and everyone agrees,” said Boris Vishnevsky, a St. Petersburg lawmaker with the liberal Yabloko party who’s advocating for Skochilenko’s release.

“It’s a clear signal for people to be afraid and stay silent, to be afraid of contradicting the official account about Ukraine,” he said.

the Pentagon

The Moskva is damaged but moving under its own power, the U.S. says

Posted April 14, 2022 at 12:20 PM EDT

A senior defense official says the U.S. is still uncertain about the cause of a fire aboard the Russian warship, the Moskva.

The official says Russian sailors are still fighting the fire, which is extensive, but that the ship is operating under its own power and likely heading for Sevastopol.

Russian defense officials maintain that a fire detonated ammunition on board the ship, while Ukraine says the Moskva was hit by Ukrainian Neptune anti-ship missiles and was sinking.

The official stressed that the Pentagon cannot confirm what caused the damage, but added that less than half a dozen other Russian warships in the northern Black Sea moved further away from the coast after the incident.

Russia sanctions

Germany seizes the world's largest yacht (at least according to volume)

Posted April 14, 2022 at 11:23 AM EDT
A massive yacht sails in blue water, next to a smaller white boat.
Valery Hache
AFP via Getty Images
The luxury superyacht Dilbar sails off the coast of Monaco in 2017.

German authorities have seized the world's largest yacht by volume after determining that a Russian oligarch had transferred its ownership to his sister — who is also facing Western sanctions.

Dilbar, the yacht in question, measures some 511 feet and 15,917 tons, which shipbuilder Lurssen says makes it the largest motor yacht in the world by gross tonnage. It has two helipads and one of the biggest indoor pools ever installed on a yacht, according to the U.S. Treasury Department, which puts its estimated worth between $600 and $735 million.

The superyacht is named after the mother of its original owner: Alisher Usmanov, one of Russia's wealthiest billionaires and a known close associate of the Russian president. Usmanov was sanctioned by the U.S., United Kingdom., European Union and Switzerland in March, following Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Germany’s federal police tweeted Wednesday that it found, “through extensive investigations despite offshore concealment," that the yacht currently belongs to Usmanov's sister, Gulbakhor Ismailova. Authorities impounded the yacht, which remains at the port of Hamburg, after confirming with Brussels that its owner is under sanctions.

Ismailova was sanctioned by the U.K. on Wednesday and the EU last week. Both entities said Usmanov had indirectly transferred assets to his sister, including leaving her as Dilbar's only beneficial owner.

"The owner of the yacht 'Dilbar' is Navis Marine Ltd. (Cayman Islands), whose shareholder is Almenor Holdings Ltd. (Cyprus). All shares in that holding company are held by Pomerol
Capital SA (Switzerland) in trust for the benefit of 'The Sisters Trust,' " EU officials explained, adding that Usmanov has not been a shareholder of that trust company since 2017.

Ismailova has also been linked to luxury real estate in Italy and Latvia associated with Usmanov, the EU said, and therefore has "actively supported materially or financially Russian decision-makers responsible for the annexation of Crimea and the destabilisation of Ukraine."

Dilbar made headlines in early March, when Hamburg officials denied conflicting reports that they had seized the superyacht and said any such move would have to come from higher federal customs authorities.

According to Boat International, Dilbar is also the fourth-longest yacht in the world. It can accommodate up to 96 crew members as well as 24 guests in a large living space, which includes fold-out balconies, an onboard garden (with "a specifically developed variety of grass that tolerates salt air") and more than 1,000 custom-made sofa cushions.


U.N. agency asks U.K. not to match female refugees from Ukraine with lone male hosts

Posted April 14, 2022 at 10:28 AM EDT
Handmade signs with yellow sunflowers against blue backgrounds fill the squares of a window.
Matt Dunham
Pictures made by children in solidarity with Ukraine are displayed in a window at 10 Downing Street in London in March.

The U.N.'s refugee agency is raising concerns about the United Kingdom's Homes for Ukraine program, in which anyone can apply to host a refugee for a period of at least six months.

Citing "increasing reports of Ukrainian women feeling at risk from their sponsors," the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees is urging U.K. officials to refine the application and matching process.

"UNHCR believes that a more appropriate matching process could be put in place by ensuring that women and women with children are matched with families or couples, rather than with single men," the agency said in a Wednesday statement. "Matching done without the appropriate oversight may lead to increasing the risks women may face, in addition to the trauma of displacement, family separation and violence already experienced."

The agency also expressed concern about what would happen if the original host proves to be a threat to the refugee's safety, especially given the six-month minimum.

The government launched the Homes for Ukraine program in mid-March, after facing criticism for accepting only several hundred refugees fleeing the war. Some 100,000 people signed up as potential hosts on the first day, and that number has since doubled.

However, only a quarter of the Ukrainian refugees who have been granted visas (or about 12,000 people) had arrived in the U.K. as of last week, prompting continued public criticism of the slow-moving bureaucracy as well as apologies from several top government officials over the delay.

And some refugees have made it to the U.K. only to have their housing arrangements fall through, with SkyNews reporting that there have been dozens of cases in which refugees became homeless "after their relationship with their sponsors broke down."

Desperation and confusion have led some refugees seeking housing to turn to social media, where they are vulnerable to exploitation.

Late last month, a group of 16 refugee and anti-trafficking organizations wrote a letter to Housing Secretary Michael Gove warning that the program's "hands-off approach to matching" created opportunity for traffickers and dishonest landlords and others with ulterior motives to set up matching sites and Facebook pages to "prey upon the vulnerable."

"We are concerned that issues with the scheme means that it risks being a Tinder for sex traffickers," Louise Calvey, head of safeguarding at charity Refugee Action, told The Guardian. "We are already aware of people with illegal motives who are advertising on social media.”

On April 1, U.K. community sponsorship organization Reset Communities and Refugees launched a matching and training service for sponsors and refugees under Homes for Ukraine, led by "safeguarding experts" with support from the government.

“From a safeguarding perspective, Reset would never match a lone male with single women, or those with children, unless additional safeguarding assessments have been carried out (for example, by the Local Authority)," a Reset spokesperson told NPR over email.

According to the BBC, a government spokesperson said that the Homes for Ukraine" program includes "robust security and background checks" on sponsors by the Home Office and local authorities.

"Attempts to exploit vulnerable people are truly despicable — this is why we have designed the Homes for Ukraine scheme to have specific safeguards in place," a government spokesperson said, according to the BBC.

Those include "robust security and background checks" on all sponsors by the Home Office and local authorities, with officials required to make at least one in-person visit to a sponsor's property to make sure the guest is safe.

However, the UNCHR says local authorities have already reported being overwhelmed in terms of being able to "carry out checks on a timely basis," as well as offering financial support to hosts.

The agency is calling for more support and communication between the relevant government offices, local councils and vetting processes.

"UNHCR believes that appropriate training and information are needed to ensure that hosts make an informed decision when applying to become sponsors," it said. "Housing a stranger in an extra bedroom for an extended period is not for some people sustainable."

Must Listen

What life is like for one of the first Ukrainian families to arrive in the U.S.

Posted April 14, 2022 at 9:58 AM EDT
People walk next to large windows at an airport.
Stefani Reynolds
AFP via Getty Images
Travelers pass through Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in Arlington, Va., on Monday.

More than 4.7 million Ukrainians have fled their country as refugees, according to a tracker from the U.N. While most have headed to neighboring European countries, some have navigated the long journey — and the paperwork — to come to the U.S.

President Biden has pledged that the U.S. will welcome up to 100,000 people fleeing the war in Ukraine. So far, just a few hundred have made it stateside.

Morning Edition's A Martínez spoke with several of them over the weekend.

Eka Koliubaieva and her two daughters, Erika and Amira, arrived in the U.S. last month and have been living with a host family (that they found through social media) in Arlington, Va. They shared their experience fleeing the country, their hopes for the future and their thoughts on whether they'll ever return.

The family hadn't initially planned to leave Kyiv, but as the war broke out they packed their car and drove hundreds of miles to the Hungarian border — and were just about to cross when they realized the patriarch, Artem Koliubaiev, would have to stay behind to fight.

The other three have been adjusting to life in America, eating hamburgers and keeping up with news from home through social media and word of mouth. And then late one night last week, a surprise guest knocked on the front door.

It was Artem, who used his filmmaker's visa to come to the U.S. to celebrate his daughter's 16th birthday — but only temporarily. While the family's visa allows them to stay here until September, he's beginning the trek back to Ukraine tonight, out of a sense of duty to his country (he's been working with film industry volunteers to deliver medical supplies and other necessities throughout Ukraine).

He says the next time he sees his family, it will be because something has changed for the better.

Listen to the full conversation here.


An expert says U.S. groups are readying to help high numbers of Ukrainian refugees

Posted April 14, 2022 at 9:26 AM EDT
A young child rests their head on a stack of luggage and closes their eyes.
Patrick T. Fallon
AFP via Getty Images
Anna Kuts, 3, sleeps on a suitcase after arriving with her family at the Tijuana airport, where they were met by volunteers to help them on their journey to the U.S. after fleeing the war in Ukraine.

A year ago, President Biden announced the U.S. would withdraw troops from Afghanistan. Now, in addition to Afghan refugees, America is looking to resettle a high number of refugees from the war in Ukraine.

Cecilia Muñoz is the co-chair of Welcome.US, a nonprofit that helps connect newly arrived refugees to resources in the U.S. She spoke to NPR's A Martínez about how Afghan refugees are faring and whether U.S. systems are ready for Ukrainian refugees. Listen to their full conversation here.

"The heartening thing is that Americans from all walks of life are stepping up and saying, ' We want to help,' " Muñoz says.

The group is preparing with the Ukrainian diaspora and the government to support incoming Ukrainian refugees.

The United States has accepted 75,000 Afghan refugees and has agreed to accept 100,000 Ukrainian refugees, in addition to the 125,000 refugees that the Biden administration has agreed to allow from other countries.

With such a high number of refugees needing resettlement right now, Muñoz says it is crucial organizations step up and expand their capabilities quickly.

"The government's capacity and the capacity of non-profit groups really got decimated in the Trump years," Muñoz says. "That's not a political statement, it's just the truth."

She says her organization and others are focusing on rebuilding stronger than before, so they're ready to help refugees whenever they arrive.


Where could a potential war crimes trial be held? There are a few options

Posted April 14, 2022 at 8:55 AM EDT
A group of people talk to each other. One of them, whose back is facing the camera, is wearing a vest that says "war crimes prosecutor."
Fadel Senna
AFP via Getty Images
Britain's Karim Khan, a prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, visits a mass grave in Bucha on Wednesday.

Some European allies have joined President Biden in accusing Russia of committing war crimes in Ukraine. Biden went further this week, saying it was genocide against Ukrainians.

Some Western nations are looking at the potential for future war crimes trials against Russia — and there are a few venues where these could be held.

One option would be the International Criminal Court, which has already opened an investigation. But the U.S. is not a party to the court, which complicates things a bit on the U.S. side.

Ukraine's courts also have jurisdiction. And there's also the possibility of some courts in European countries, such as Germany, whose laws allow national authorities to prosecute international crime.

But this is very much an active war, and experts say the most important thing parties can do right now is document what's happening.

The Biden administration says it's helping Ukraine investigate potential war crimes by Russia. Listen here for more on what that entails.

military strategy

How Russia's shifting strategy may play out in eastern Ukraine

Posted April 14, 2022 at 8:37 AM EDT
An abandoned car with it's doors, trunk and hood up. The terrain is flat and without many trees.
Chris McGrath
Getty Images
An abandoned vehicle is seen on March 31 in Malaya Rohan, a village in eastern Ukraine.

Russia is regrouping its forces and shifting its assault on Ukraine to the eastern part of the country, satellite images show. Russia's new strategy comes after setbacks plagued its earlier attempts to control all of Ukraine.

NPR's Greg Myre joined Up First on Wednesday to discuss what Russia's new tactics may mean. Listen here. 🎧

When Russia invaded Ukraine in late February, Putin sought a sweeping victory throughout Ukraine by advancing troops from the north, south and east of the country. That sweeping victory hasn't happened yet. Russian forces have withdrawn from around Kyiv in the north after heavy fighting with Ukrainian forces and clashes continue in besieged Mariupol in the south.

Putin appears to have scaled back his military aims — at least for now. In the east of Ukraine, Putin may find more favorable conditions, as the landscape features more wide-open spaces where the outgunned Ukrainians may find it harder to sneak up on the Russians.

But Ukraine still has intangible factors on its side.

"Ukraine really does have the momentum: It has higher morale, it has international support, it's winning the information war," Myre says.

In contrast, with the Russians retreating and Putin repositioning his forces after sputtering attempts to take Ukraine's big cities, many Russian troops might have a hard time explaining what exactly they're fighting for, reports Myre.

International Dispatch
From Ukraine

The leaders of Estonia, Poland, Lithuana and Latvia met with Zelenskyy in Kyiv

Posted April 14, 2022 at 8:20 AM EDT
Five men stand at separate podiums beneath colorful country flags, as people sit in rows of chairs facing them.
Sergei Supinsky
AFP via Getty Images
(L-R) President of Lithuania Gitanas Nauseda, President of Poland Andrzej Duda, President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky, President of Latvia Egils Levits and President of Estonia Alar Karis hold a press conference following their talks in Kyiv on Wednesday.

Some of Ukraine's staunchest allies are traveling to the Ukrainian capital to meet with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

European leaders are visiting Kyiv with increasing frequency. For them, it's a way to express solidarity with Ukraine as a new Russian offensive appears to be looming in the east.

The presidents of Estonia, Poland, Lithuania and Latvia traveled to Kyiv on Wednesday — and were just the latest high-profile dignitaries to visit.

It's a remarkable development considering how much fighting was taking place around the city just weeks ago.

The visiting leaders also toured sites near Kyiv that had been hit hard by Russian forces

Zelensky expressed gratitude that these countries had been the first to offer aid to Ukraine during the conflict, calling them the "First Friends" of Ukraine.

This European delegation follows similar visits by the prime minister of the United Kingdom and the president of the European Commission over the past week.

International Dispatch
From Ukraine

Russia says one of its missile cruisers caught fire. Ukraine claims responsibility

Posted April 14, 2022 at 8:17 AM EDT
A large military ship sits in blue waters, near a hill with trees and bushes on it.
The Russian missile cruiser Moskva, the flagship of Russia's Black Sea fleet, is seen anchored in the Black Sea port of Sevastopol in 2008.

A Russian missile cruiser operating in the Black Sea has been heavily damaged and its crew evacuated. Ukraine and Russia are offering differing accounts of what happened to the vessel.

The Russians say a missile cruiser called the Moskva, the flagship of its Black Sea fleet, experienced a fire on board Wednesday that caused munitions to explode. Russia's Tass news agency quoted Kremlin officials as saying the vessel’s crew of roughly 500 sailors has now been evacuated and an investigation of the blaze is underway.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian officials claimed that they attacked the Moskva, damaging the vessel with Neptune cruise missiles (which are designed for use against ships). Neither account could be independently confirmed and there's no information on how many Russian sailors were killed or injured.

The Moskva gained notoriety at the start of the war when its crew called on Ukrainian border troops defending the strategic Snake Island to surrender— only to be refused with profanity. The Ukrainian troops in question were initially believed to have been killed but were actually taken captive and released in a prisoner swap in early March.