War in Ukraine live updates: Russia says it will scale back attacks on northern Ukraine

Published March 29, 2022 at 8:17 AM EDT
A woman in Kyiv cries after fleeing her home in the outskirts of the city on Tuesday.
Ronaldo Schemidt
AFP via Getty Images
A woman in Kyiv cries after fleeing her home in the outskirts of the city on Tuesday.

Russian negotiators said they would pare back military activity near Kyiv, a tentative first sign of progress in weeks-long negotiations. But an expert at the Carnegie Endowment calls the prospects for peace "very dim."

Here's what else we're following:

Russia says it will scale back attacks near Kyiv: Russian negotiators described the move as a “de-escalation” step.

The U.K. seizes its first Russian-owned superyacht: The $49.67 million yacht, which is named Phi, belongs to an unnamed Russian businessman and was docked in the Canary Wharf financial district of London

Biden's eye-watering bite of spicy Polish pizza: A Polish pizzeria is seeing a surge in business after the U.S. president's recent visit.


Ukraine's losses from the Russian invasion now top $1 trillion, prime minister says

Posted March 29, 2022 at 1:22 PM EDT
A woman walks in front of her damaged residential building in Kharkiv on March 29.
Sergey Bobok
AFP via Getty Images
A woman walks in front of her residential building in Kharkiv that has been partially destroyed by Russian shelling.

The war in Ukraine is taking a catastrophic economic toll along with the dire humanitarian crisis it has created, according to the latest government estimates. The official estimate of economic losses, including projected costs, now totals more than $1 trillion, Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said Tuesday.

Ukraine’s GDP was most recently measured at $155.5 billion, according to the World Bank.

In a posting to his Telegram channel, Shmyhal broke the massive estimate down into rough components:

  • More than $290 billion in losses from companies unable to earn profits and get returns on investments;
  • $120 billion in infrastructure damage, such as destroyed bridges, roads and buildings — but he warned that the figure rises to more than $270 billion when lost military infrastructure and civilian costs are included;
  • Unspecified losses to the state, because of damage done to its GDP and enterprises that would have earned income.

The new estimate comes roughly two weeks after Shmyhal said Ukraine’s economy had lost $565 billion because of the war, citing preliminary estimates that were not as broad as his latest accounting.

Shmyhal’s office says he made the latest remarks in an interview with Interfax-Ukraine. The news agency also reports that the prime minister said 1,000 companies now want to move to safe regions in Ukraine, with 300 businesses already relocated.

Local reports

Ukrainian prosecutors say Russian forces kidnapped a mayor in the Kherson region

Posted March 29, 2022 at 12:39 PM EDT

Russian forces have kidnapped the mayor of a city in the Kherson region, according to Ukrainian prosecutors.

The Prosecutor General's Office wrote on Facebook on Tuesday that, according to its investigation, Russian soldiers armed with guns kidnapped and held hostage the unnamed head of what it referred to as the Golopristan City Council.

The official's whereabouts and condition are not known.

"At present, all possible and appropriate measures are being taken to determine the circumstances of the event and the persons involved," the prosecutor's office wrote.

It added that it had started criminal proceedings for "violating laws and customs of war" and urged anyone who has witnessed a Russian war crime to send evidence to a designated website.

The English-language Kyiv Independent reported on Tuesday that the mayor of "Hola Prystan," another transliteration for the city, had been kidnapped the previous day and noted that Russian troops have kidnapped other mayors in Ukrainian territories under their control.

The mayor of Melitopol, Ivan Fedorov, was detained earlier this month by a group of people who reportedly placed a plastic bag over his head while he was in the city crisis center. He was released five days later in exchange for nine captured Russian soldiers.

Ukrainian officials also accused Russian forces of kidnapping Yevhen Matveyev, the mayor of Dniprorudne, around the same time.

More recently, the head of the Kyiv Regional Military Administration said over the weekend that Russian forces had invade the town of Slavutych, seized its hospital, threw stun grenades at civilians attending a pro-Ukraine rally and kidnapped its mayor, Yuri Fomichev, according toBusiness Insider.

Fomichev was released hours later and joined protesters at the rally, The New York Timesreported. A video posted from the city by a local journalist showed Fomichev addressing the crowd, the Times added, though noted it wasn't clear whether he was speaking freely.

“In captivity, I negotiated with the occupiers,” he said. “It was agreed that if it is confirmed that our military is not in the city, everything will be calm.”

International groups have also accused Russian troops of threatening, kidnapping and holding journalists hostage in occupied areas of Ukraine.


Ukrainian tennis star Elina Svitolina pulls out of event in U.S., citing fatigue and injuries

Posted March 29, 2022 at 12:26 PM EDT
Elina Svitolina of Ukraine is bowing out of her country's upcoming Billie Jean King Cup qualifier against the U.S., which will be played in Asheville, N.C., next month.
Clive Brunskill
Getty Images
Elina Svitolina of Ukraine is bowing out of her country's upcoming Billie Jean King Cup qualifier against the U.S., which will be played in Asheville, N.C., next month.

Ukrainian tennis star Elina Svitolina says she won't play in her country’s qualifying matches for the Billie Jean King Cup in the U.S. next month, saying she needs to recuperate from injuries.

In a Facebook post, Svitolina said she has been inspired by her country’s fight for survival to keep playing and represent Ukraine at international events — where she has been vocal about her support for Ukraine. But she has also been unable to get over a lingering back injury.

"Meanwhile, observing with unbearable pain in my heart what is happening in my homeland Ukraine and with how much bravery and courage our Ukrainian people are defending our country, this gave me a huge push to continue and fight on court," she said, before adding, "Now, my body can’t handle it anymore and I need to rest."

Svitolina, currently No. 20 in the world, had been slated to play for Team Ukraine when it faces the U.S. on April 15 and 16 in Asheville, N.C., which is hosting the two countries' qualifying matches for the Billie Jean King Cup. Organizers had pledged to donate 10% of the event's ticket proceeds to the Ukraine Crisis Relief Fund by Global Giving.

The international women’s tournament was previously known as the Fed Cup. The 2021 title was won by Russia, which is barred from participating in this year’s competition.


Russia says it will scale back attacks on northern Ukraine

Posted March 29, 2022 at 11:05 AM EDT

Russia announced it would scale back military activity near Kyiv in what Russian negotiators on Tuesday described as a “de-escalation” step. This marked a tentative first sign of potential progress in weeks-long negotiations between Moscow and Kyiv for a cease-fire in Ukraine.

Speaking to reporters, Russian representatives called the talks “constructive” and suggested that a meeting of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Russian President Vladimir Putin could take place once both sides had agreed to a draft peace deal — sooner than they had said before. Russian and Ukrainian negotiators met in Istanbul today for the first face-to-face talks in weeks.

Russian Deputy Defense Minister Alexander Fomin told reporters that Russia would notably pare back military activity near Kyiv and Chernihiv in northern Ukraine, as the two sides negotiate a deal that appeared to include Ukraine’s neutrality and non-nuclear status.

"In order to increase mutual trust and create the necessary conditions for further negotiations and for achieving the ultimate goal of ratifying and signing (an) agreement, a decision was made to significantly, by a large margin, reduce military activity” in the regions, Fomin said.

Russia's lead negotiator, Vladimir Medinsky, said Russian Central Command would provide more details on its de-escalatory moves once negotiators had returned to Moscow.

In recent days, the Pentagon said that Russian troops appeared to take defensive positions around Kyiv as Ukrainian forces launched counteroffensives. Earlier on Tuesday, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu made a rare appearance on state television to announce Russian forces had successfully completed the “first phase” of its “main goal”: the liberation of Donbas. This aligned with earlier signs from Moscow that its priority in Ukraine might be shifting toward maintaining a hold over the eastern Donbas region.


This expert thinks the conflict could come to resemble the Bosnian war, but bigger

Posted March 29, 2022 at 10:39 AM EDT
A soldier stands guard at a checkpoint with a blue and yellow Ukrainian flag.
Sergei Supinsky
AFP via Getty Images
A Ukrainian soldier stands guard at a checkpoint in the outskirt of Kyiv on Monday.

Ukrainian officials say they are unwilling to give up people, land or sovereignty — exactly what they think Russia is after.

Indeed, the Kremlin has suggested in recent days that it's focused on "liberating" parts of eastern Ukraine, the region where Moscow-backed separatists seized land some eight years ago.

Morning Edition host Steve Inskeep spoke with Andrew Weiss, vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, about the broader historical context and where the conflict might be headed.

A warning that his outlook isn't exactly optimistic: Weiss calls the prospect of peace "a very dim one at this point."

"I think we're going to see the conflict begin to morph and resemble the Bosnian war of the 1990s, but on a much vaster scale," he says. "So the people who are listening to your program today should be prepared for this conflict to go on and, unfortunately, for the humanitarian toll and the suffering of civilians to continue into the coming months, if not years."

Listen to the conversation or keep reading to find out why.

On whether Weiss believes that Russia has given up on what appeared to be its initial goal of seizing Ukraine as a whole

I think the Russian announcements always need to be taken with a major lump of salt. At the same time, there's a definite concentration of their military activity on the Donbas. And as the Ukrainian military intelligence chief announced on Sunday, there's an attempt to basically create a North Korea/South Korea formal division of the country. So there are elements of truth in what they're saying, but the maximalist goals probably are intact. The question is, it's more about timing, what's achievable over the short term.

On what case Russia could possibly make for taking over eastern Ukraine

Well, there's no case to be made. This is a sovereign country. And at the end of the day, the problem for [Russian President] Vladimir Putin is he simply can't accept an independent Ukraine on his borders.

The immediate challenge for the Ukrainians is that the Russians — by virtue of geographical proximity, by virtue of where their military forces are concentrated — have the ability to cut off Ukrainian troops that are operating in the Donbas. And if that happens, if they're encircled, that's a really dangerous predicament for the Ukrainian side.

On whether there's a significant demographic or historical difference between eastern and western Ukraine

Ukraine is a mosaic. And Vladimir Putin has tried to portray that as suggesting that it's not a real country and that it's been cobbled together over various decades.

I don't think that's true. What you have seen in Ukraine, though, is a transformative moment. And that transformative moment came in 2014 when Russia invaded the country. And so, a lot of those geographical or regional divisions were erased by virtue of the unifying presence of a Russian invasion.

So, yes, there are parts of Ukraine in the eastern section where there's heavy sort of post-industrial economy, there's a greater level of Russification that occurred in the Soviet era, but the majority of the population has looked at what Russia has done since 2014 with total horror. And they're the people who today are rejecting Russia's claim that Russia should rule that part of the country.

On what would have to happen for the nearly decadelong conflict to end, with Russia controlling Crimea and Ukraine refusing to compromise on its sovereignty

The prospect of peace is, I think, a very dim one at this point. There's a horrible humanitarian tragedy unfolding across Ukraine. And then there's a remarkable story of resistance, both from the Ukrainian military and from average people who've taken up arms to defend their country.

I don't see any Ukrainian leader being able to sit at a table across from Vladimir Putin, offer up significant chunks of their territory, give up parts of their sovereignty and, as Putin wants, basically give away their ability to defend themselves from such an invasion in the future.

Soldiers for hire

Russia is sending more Wagner Group mercenaries to Ukraine, U.K. says

Posted March 29, 2022 at 10:06 AM EDT

The Wagner Group, a controversial private Russian military company, is taking on a larger role in Russia’s war in Ukraine, according to Britain’s ministry of defense, which says Russian President Vladimir Putin is calling on the Wagner Group to compensate for shortcomings in Russia’s invasion.

U.S. defense officials have previously acknowledged that the Wagner Group is active in Ukraine, mainly in Ukraine’s Donbas area. But they also warned that Russia was discussing a broader use of the company’s fighters, and the new guidance seems to confirm that development.

“They are expected to deploy more than 1,000 mercenaries, including senior leaders of the organization, to undertake combat operations,” the U.K. defense ministry said. “Due to heavy losses and a largely stalled invasion, Russia has highly likely been forced to reprioritize Wagner personnel for Ukraine at the expense of operations in Africa and Syria.”

The ministry also issued a new map of current military placements in Ukraine, showing the Russian military’s stalled advances in central and eastern Ukraine.

Late last year, the Wagner Group was placed under sanctions by the European Union for “serious human rights abuses in Ukraine, Syria, Libya, the Central African Republic, Sudan and Mozambique” and was accused of carrying out executions and torture. The U.S. has also targeted the group, as well as a Russian oligarch named Yevgeny Prigozhin, who is believed to be Wagner’s chief backer.

Analysts say Wagner and similar groups have become increasingly popular in Russia, in part because of the plausible deniability they provide. They’re also seen as a cheaper alternative to a regular military force — and because such private military groups are technically illegal under Russian law, Putin’s regime has strong leverage over them.

Political science professor Kimberly Marten of Columbia University explained that dynamic in congressional testimony in 2020.

“First, it keeps these groups loyal to the Kremlin ‘power vertical’ and to Putin, and forces them to share whatever wealth they accrue through their activities,” she said. “Any time they show disloyalty to their patrons, they can be prosecuted and imprisoned for mercenary behavior. Second, it restricts the market and ensures that only Putin’s favorites can profit from these activities.”


U.K. seizes Russian-owned superyacht for the first time

Posted March 29, 2022 at 9:47 AM EDT
A large blue yacht sits in water beneath city skyscrapers.
James Manning
PA Images via Getty Images
The newly-detained superyacht Phi is pictured while docked in Canary Wharf, in east London, on Tuesday.

Officials in the United Kingdom say they've detained a Russian-owned superyacht docked near London, a first under new sanctions imposed over Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

The $49.67 million yacht, which is named Phi, belongs to an unnamed Russian businessman and was docked in the Canary Wharf financial district of London, according to the government.

"Today we’ve detained a 38 million pound superyacht and turned an icon of Russia’s power and wealth into a clear and stark warning to Putin and his cronies," Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said in a statement reported by Reuters. "Detaining the Phi proves, yet again, that we can and will take the strongest possible action against those seeking to benefit from Russian connections."

A spokesperson for Prime Minister Boris Johnson said this is the first time a Russian superyacht has been detained in U.K. waters, according to SkyNews — which added that the government later clarified that the unidentified owner of the vessel is not currently subject to U.K. sanctions.

Officials said the yacht's ownership is "deliberately well hidden." The company it's registered to is based in the Caribbean islands of St. Kitts and Nevis, but the ship itself carries Maltese flags, purportedly to hide its origins.

Reuters reports that Phi was in Canary Wharf for a superyacht awards ceremony and was planning to depart today.

But the yacht won't be leaving anytime soon, according to Shapps.

"When you see what he's doing to Ukraine, when you see what he's doing to people's lives, it can't be right to have a yacht like this here in London, able to just sail away and that is why we've impounded it, and denied it ability to go anywhere right now, and it's another indication of how seriously we take these matters," he said.

Phi measures more than 190 feet long. It was completed in 2021 by Dutch builder Royal Huisman, which said it was set to be the longest sub-500GT yacht in the world. Its amenities include a freshwater swimming pool that converts into a sealed tank and an "infinite wine cellar," according to Boat International.

It also boasts a laser-powered exterior lighting system, Auto Evolution reports, and is accompanied by what is called a shadow vessel — "where all the water toys and additional equipment can be carried, in order to free up even more space on the mothership." The 118-foot shadow vessel, Phi Phantom, can reportedly fit a "huge tender and a boat," personal watercraft, motorbikes, additional fuel and a car.

Officials said that they first flagged the yacht as being potentially Russian-owned on March 13 and that the Department for Transport, National Crime Agency and Border Force Maritime Investigation Bureau worked together to identify and detain it.

The transportation department said it's also looking at a number of other vessels and hopes that its “strong stance sends an example to international partners.”


These are the major issues that still divide Russia and Ukraine after today's talks

Posted March 29, 2022 at 9:34 AM EDT
A picture shows a map of Ukraine as media work before a meeting between Ukrainian and Russian delegations in Istanbul on Tuesday.
Yasin Akgul
AFP via Getty Images
A picture shows a map of Ukraine as media work before a meeting between Ukrainian and Russian delegations in Istanbul on Tuesday.

ISTANBUL, Turkey — Talks between Russian and Ukrainian delegations wrapped up in Istanbul today, with no major breakthroughs reported.

There were signs of progress, but significant differences remain:

Ukraine negotiator Mykhallo Poldoyak said his side proposed a new system of security guarantees during Tuesday's talks. On the issue of neutrality, the negotiator said Ukraine would not have foreign military bases on its soil

Ukraine says any agreement must be voted on in a Ukrainian referendum, which would be extremely difficult under current conditions, especially with millions of Ukrainians having fled their homes. Ukraine also wants eight guarantor states to ensure any agreement is followed.

Russia refers to its invasion as a "special military operation." A Russian negotiator called the talks "constructive," and said a further statement could come within hours.

Not too cheesy

A Polish pizzeria is seeing a surge in business after Biden's recent visit

Posted March 29, 2022 at 9:21 AM EDT
President Biden bites into a piece of pizza while seated at a table next to U.S. soldiers.
Brendan Smialowski
AFP via Getty Images
President Biden sampled a slice of the Number 22 with U.S. service members from the 82nd Airborne Division in the city of Rzeszow, in southeastern Poland, on Friday.

In Głogów Małopolski — a Polish town of 5,000 near the Ukrainian border — Pizzeria Gusto gets lots of orders from the U.S. troops from the 82nd Airborne, who are stationed nearby.

When President Biden visited the troops during his trip to Poland last week, he decided to join the soldiers for lunch. (The troops had ordered 88 pies the night before, Pizzeria Gusto told local media.)

One of the soldiers handed the president a slice of “Number 22” — a spicy pepperoni pizza laden with jalapeños. TV footage showed the president’s eyes watering as he ate.

Word got around about the pizza: The next day, Pizzeria Gusto was packed with customers wanting their own slice of spicy Number 22, the pizzeria owners told the Polish newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza.

“The phones rang off the hook, it’s crazy,” co-owner Damian Drupka told TVN24. “I’d never have expected that the president of the United States would eat our pizza.”

Drupka says he plans to rename the Number 22 “Joe Biden Pizza” in honor of the president.


What to know about the fresh round of peace talks happening in Istanbul

Posted March 29, 2022 at 8:32 AM EDT
Men sit at a long table lined with flowers and microphones, watching a man speak from a wooden podkum surrounded by Russian, Turkish and Ukrainian flags, against a large mural.
Arda Kucukkaya
Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks ahead of the peace talks between delegations from Russia and Ukraine at Dolmabahçe Palace in Istanbul on Tuesday.

Negotiators from Russia and Ukraine met in Istanbul today for another round of peace talks.

Much has changed in the weeks since they last met. Namely, Russia has failed to take Kyiv, Ukraine's capital, and appears to be shifting its focus to the east, while Ukrainian troops claim to have recaptured some territory around the capital.

Their demands and would-be concessions appear to be changing, too, as NPR'sPeter Kenyon tellsMorning Edition from Istanbul.

Kenyon reports that talks produced signs of progress, but they finished for the day with no major breakthroughs.

Here's what you need to know about these latest negotiations.

Why Turkey?

Today's talks took place at Istanbul's Dolmabahçe Palace, a lavish structure along the Bosporus Strait.

Kenyon says Turkey has long offered to host these talks and would actually prefer to play more of a role as a mediator. The NATO nation is one of the countries that is seeking to maintain good relations with both Ukraine and Russia.

Turkey's president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has spoken out against the invasion and called for a cease-fire but has kept in contact with both leaders. The government has supplied armed drones to Ukraine's military, while Erdogan has been close to Russian President Vladimir Putin and spoken of cordial ties.

Kenyon notes that economics play a role too: Many Russian tourists visit Turkey's resort cities each year, and people there don't want that to stop.

Erdogan addressed both delegations before the talks began, wishing them success in ending what he called "this tragedy."

What's on the table?

Comments from leaders in recent days point to some potential areas of progress.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy told Russian journalists over the weekend that Ukraine could be willing to agree to some of the security guarantees Russia is demanding, like declaring neutrality, ending its push to join NATO or potentially pledging not to seek nuclear weapons.

At a minimum, it's seeking things like humanitarian corridors for families trying to escape the violence — and, at a maximum, a full cease-fire and complete withdrawal of Russian troops.

Ukraine's foreign ministry has also been clear about what it won't discuss: "people, land and sovereignty." Those issues are already complicated given that Russia has annexed and controlled Crimea since 2014, and there is strong pro-Russian sentiment in parts of eastern Ukraine.

Moscow has made other demands that have widely been seen as non-starters and could be preparing to drop some of them. For example, the Financial Timesis reporting that Russia has relinquished its demand that Ukraine be "denazified."

Who's there?

The Ukrainian delegation includes the country's defense minister, presidential advisers, lawmakers and representatives from the military, according to The Washington Post.

Zelenskyy adviser Mykhailo Podoliak tweeted a photo of what he said was a meeting between the heads of the Russian and Ukrainian delegations, with The Post identifying the men as Putin adviser Vladimir Medinsky and Zeleneskyy political ally David Arakhamia.

It also appeared that sanctioned Russian oligarch — and Chelsea FC owner — Roman Abramovich was in attendance.

Russian state news agency Ria Novosti tweeted a picture of Abramovich talking to Erdogan and Turkey's foreign minister at the meeting, while Turkish TV showed him sitting alongside Erdogan's spokesperson, at a different table than members of the main delegations, listening to a translation through headphones.

Abramovich's role in the talks is unclear, but he appears to have been acting as a mediator between Kyiv and Moscow in recent weeks.

On Monday, The Wall Street Journal and investigative outlet Bellingcat reported that Abramovich and Ukrainian peace negotiators experienced symptoms consistent with suspected poisoning after talks earlier this month, citing unnamed sources. An unnamed U.S. official later told Reuters that the causes were likely "environmental," and the Kremlin has dismissed the claims as part of "the information war."

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba told national TV hours before today's talks that he had advised members of the delegation meeting with Russia not to eat or drink anything, and avoid touching surfaces if possible.

On the ground

Evacuees leaving Mariupol are 'overjoyed to be alive'

Posted March 29, 2022 at 8:20 AM EDT
Two people, one visibly smiling, embrace while standing near a crowd outside of a white van.
Chris McGrath
Getty Images
Women hug at an evacuation point after getting off a bus that was part of a large convoy carrying hundreds of people from Mariupol and Melitopol on Friday in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine.

Thousands of civilians are fleeing the besieged city of Mariupol. Here's the scene from a parking lot near the front line, where evacuees are gathering:

Convoys of people who are coming out of Mariupol have been arriving here near Dnipro. They're telling harrowing stories of being interrogated by Russian troops, of being threatened with being killed. They're telling stories of being in basements for weeks on end with no electricity and no running water. There's actually sort of this amazing sense of joy — tears of joy from people as they recount seeing the first Ukrainian flag, making it even just to this parking lot.

People are not just happy to be out of Mariupol: They are overjoyed to be alive.


Ukraine publishes what it says is a list of 620 Russian officers operating in Europe

Posted March 29, 2022 at 8:20 AM EDT
The headquarters of Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB), the successor agency to the KGB, is seen on Lubyanka Square in Moscow.
Alexander Nemenov
AFP via Getty Images
The headquarters of Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB), the successor agency to the KGB, is seen on Lubyanka Square in Moscow.

Ukraine's defense intelligence agency has published a list of names and identifying information for 620 people who it says are officers of Russia’s FSB spy agency, the successor to the KGB.

"Every European should know their names!" the agency said as it released the information. The agency, which is part of the defense ministry, said the people on the list carry out criminal acts for Russia in Europe, but it did not provide context to support that claim or explain how it got the list.

The information includes a varying range of details for each person on the list, but most of them include a name, date of birth and passport number. Some entries also include the person’s Skype handle and vehicles they’ve been known to drive.

The vast majority of the entries include a registered address on Moscow’s Bolshaya Lubyanka Street — where the FSB is headquartered, on Lubyanka Square. While it alleges that the people named are responsible for criminal actions in Europe, the list does not specify which countries where the purported officers are operating.