War in Ukraine live updates: Russia intensifies air attacks; U.S. blocks Russian imports of vodka and other goods

Published March 11, 2022 at 8:08 AM EST
A damaged by shelling building is lit by sunset in Kharkiv, Ukraine, on Friday.
Andrew Marienko
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AP
A damaged by shelling building is lit by sunset in Kharkiv, Ukraine, on Friday.

The Russian convoy to the northwest of Kyiv hasn’t moved closer to the capital over the past 24 hours, a senior U.S. defense official said, but Russian strikes are keeping up the pressure on other cities, including Kharkiv, Mariupol and Mikolaiv.

Here's what we're following today:

The latest military moves: Russian strikes hit near two airports on Friday, in an indication that its offensive is widening.

Possible Russian war crimes: An expert tells NPR that evidence of war crimes is "undoubtable" and that an investigation against Russian President Vladimir Putin and his generals should go forward.

Nuclear danger: Russian strikes at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant came much closer to disaster than first reported.

Good news

A woman injured in the Mariupol hospital strike has reportedly given birth

Posted March 11, 2022 at 1:37 PM EST
A woman wearing polka-dot pajamas, wrapped in a blanket, carries a purple bag with her as she walks down a damaged staircase followed by two soldiers in uniform.
Evgeniy Maloletk
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AP
Mariana Vishegirskaya walks downstairs in of a maternity hospital damaged by shelling in Mariupol, Ukraine on Wednesday.

A pregnant woman who was pictured evacuating a besieged maternity hospital in Ukraine — and later accused by Russia of faking her injuries — has given birth to a daughter, according to photos from the Associated Press and reports from an independent journalist.

The image of the pajama-clad woman carrying her belongings down a stairwell littered with debris took off on social media following Russia's attack on the Mariupol medical complex on Wednesday. Ukrainian officials have said three people died, including a child, and 17 more were injured.

Russian officials and NPR have identified the subject of the photo as Marianna Podgurskaya, though the AP names her as Mariana Vishegirskaya.

The photo clearly shows Podgurskaya with a cut over one eye and other marks on the side of her face. Another viral photo from the scene shows a different pregnant woman being carried through a bombed-out courtyard on a stretcher.

While much of the world saw and shared those photos as the embodiment of Russia's aggression towards innocent civilians, Russian officials tried to spin a different narrative.

They claimed the facility was being used as a paramilitary base and implied that Podgurskaya — who they identified as a beauty blogger — was not actually injured in the attack.

Russia's embassy in the U.K. wrote in a tweet that she had "some very realistic make-up" and alleged that she "played roles of both pregnant women on the photos," setting off a streak of angry replies, as NPR has reported. The tweet has since been deleted for violating Twitter's rules.

Early Friday morning eastern time, journalist Olga Tokariuk tweeted that she had heard from one of Podgurskaya's relatives that she had given birth to a baby girl the previous night.

"They are ok, but it's very cold in Mariupol and the bombing doesn't stop," wrote Tokariuk, who identifies herself as an independent journalist, disinformation researcher and fellow at the Center for European Policy Analysis.

Associated Press photographer Evgeniy Maloletka, who took the original photo, published two more on Friday of a woman, wearing the same polka-dot pajamas, lying in a hospital bed next to a newborn baby who the caption says is named Veronika.

AP identifies the mother as Mariana Vishegirskaya, which is the same name it uses in the caption of Wednesday's stairwell photo.

A woman wearing a t-shirt and polka dot sweater lies in a hospital bed with a newborn baby, wearing a hat, in the crook of her arm.
Evgeniy Maloletka
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AP
Mariana Vishegirskaya lies in a hospital bed after giving birth to her daughter, Veronika, in Mariupol, Ukraine on Friday.

On the ground

Russian airstrikes pound Ukraine's cities, but its military convoy has not moved closer to Kyiv

Posted March 11, 2022 at 12:49 PM EST
Firefighters help a woman to evacuate from a damaged by shelling apartment building in Mariupol, Ukraine, on Thursday.
Evgeniy Maloletka
/
AP
Firefighters help a woman to evacuate from a damaged by shelling apartment building in Mariupol, Ukraine, on Thursday.

The Russian convoy to the northwest of Kyiv hasn’t moved closer to the capital over the past 24 hours, a senior U.S. defense official says. The lead elements are still about 10 miles from the city center. Some rear elements in the convoy have moved closer to the lead elements. Also, some parts of the convoy have moved off the road and into the tree line. ‘They’re not off-roading to Kyiv,’ the official said. It seems the Russian vehicles are moving off-road to protect themselves.

According to the official, there have been no major Russian military advances in the past 24 hours, but they are keeping up the pressure on other cities, including Kharkiv, Mariupol and Mikolaiv.

The official confirmed that the Russians carried out airstrikes today on airfields in the western cities of Lutsk and Ivano-Frankovsk. The Russians have attacked only rarely in the west. The official says the Russians want to eliminate Ukraine’s ability to use these airfields.

Russian warplanes are flying about 200 sorties a day, compared to 5 to 10 for the Ukrainians. The Ukrainians still have more than 50 fighter aircraft, more than 80 percent of their planes before the war. According to the senior defense official, Ukraine is using them sparingly because they are at risk of being shot down and they have been able to use other tactics, including drones, shoulder-held missiles and mobile anti-aircraft systems.

A member of the U.S. Congress calls Zelenskyy ‘a thug’

Posted March 11, 2022 at 12:09 PM EST
Rep. Madison Cawthorn, R-N.C., speaks on the House floor on Jan. 7, 2021.
AP
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House Television
Rep. Madison Cawthorn, R-N.C., speaks on the House floor on Jan. 7, 2021.

Rep. Madison Cawthorn, R- N.C., is being criticized for negative remarks he made about Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, whose wartime leadership has been widely praised — even drawing comparisons to Winston Churchill.

"Remember that Zelenskyy is a thug," Cawthorn told an audience in a video published by WRAL News in Raleigh. "Remember that the Ukrainian government is incredibly corrupt, and it is incredibly evil and it has been pushing woke ideologies."

Just before that comment, Cawthorn discussed sending Stinger missiles to Ukraine, to help it defend itself from Russian forces.

The video surfaced after Republican strategist Karl Rove mentioned the remarks in a piece for The Wall Street Journal, saying Cawthorn made the remarks recently in Asheville. WRAL says it’s not clear where the video was filmed.

Cawthorn is currently running for re-election in his district in western North Carolina. After the video went public, he issued a tweet saying, “I am praying for Ukraine and the Ukrainian people” and condemning Russian President Vladimir Putin’s actions. But he also seemed to accuse Zelenskyy of “pushing misinformation” in the U.S.

The video quickly prompted pushback from Cawthorn’s fellow Republicans. After the video emerged, Sen. Thom Tillis, also from North Carolina, said that “Putin's deranged propaganda revolves around convincing the world that President Zelenskyy is a ‘thug’ and the Ukrainian government is ‘evil.’ "

“Thankfully, the vast majority of Americans and nearly every single member of Congress are united in support of Ukraine's fight for freedom,” he added.

Diplomacy

Vice President Harris says the world is 'witnessing horror' as Russia's assault on Ukraine continues

Posted March 11, 2022 at 11:57 AM EST
Vice President Harris and Romanian President Klaus Iohannis arrive for a press conference at Cotroceni Palace, the Romanian Presidency headquarters, in Bucharest on Friday.
Daniel Mihailescu
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AFP via Getty Images
Vice President Harris and Romanian President Klaus Iohannis arrive for a press conference at Cotroceni Palace, the Romanian Presidency headquarters, in Bucharest on Friday.

Vice President Harris said the world is “witnessing horror” as Russia’s assault on Ukraine continues.

Harris it is “painful to watch what is happening to innocent people in Ukraine” while describing images of people fleeing with “only a backpack” and the bombing of a maternity hospital in Mariupol. More than2.5 million people have fled Ukraine, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency.

During a press conference with Romanian President Klaus Iohannis in Bucharest, Harris was asked whether she thought Russia has committed war crimes in Ukraine.

“We are clear that any intentional attack or targeting of civilians is a war crime, period,” Harris said.

Iohannis said he pressed Harris to increase the number of U.S. troops in Romania, citing Romania’s shared border with Ukraine and the fact that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine launched from the Black Sea, which also borders Romania.

“This is a scenario we have been warning about for many years now,” Iohannis said, explaining he wants more U.S. and NATO troops in his country. “We need a united forward presence, and a coherent one, as soon as possible.”

The trip to Romania was to reaffirm the U.S. commitment to defend its NATO allies, Harris said.

“We take seriously and are prepared to act on the words we speak when we say, ‘An attack against one is an attack against all,’ ” she said.

Harris acknowledged Romania’s geographic vulnerability and said the U.S. has increased its troop presence in Romania, including a 1,000-member striker squadron.

“This is a dynamic situation and we will, on a daily basis, assess the needs that we have to maintain stability in this region,” she said.

Diplomacy

EU leaders reassert support for Ukraine at an emotional press conference

Posted March 11, 2022 at 11:43 AM EST
Three people stand at podiums in front of statue busts in an ornate hall.
Ludovic Marin
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AFP via Getty Images
European Council President Charles Michel, left, French President Emmanuel Macron and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen hold a press conference following an EU leaders summit at the Palace of Versailles, near Paris, on Friday.

In a sweeping and at times emotional press conference at France's Palace of Versailles, European Union leaders gave their unanimous backing for Ukraine and condemned Russia’s attack on a peaceful sovereign nation.

The 27 leaders, who are gathered for a two-day summit, announced unanimous financial and military support for Ukraine and said they would isolate Russia as never before.

French President Emmanuel Macron said Russian President Vladimir Putin had brought war back to Europe with unheard-of violence.

"We’re all aware of the fact that it’s a turning point as well for our societies, for our peoples and for our European project," he said through an interpreter.

The leaders said Europe will change direction in many areas, including by increasing defense spending and weaning itself from all Russian gas and oil by 2027. European Commission head Ursula von der Leyen said Ukrainians are fighting for European values.

"The Ukrainian people are showing immense courage," she said. "And a people that stands up so bravely for European values is clearly part of the European family of nations."

While condemning Russia, Macron said he is still keeping communication lines with Putin open because the goal is a cease-fire and a withdrawal of Russian troops. Macron also said the EU will help Ukraine rebuild.

France currently holds the rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union.

Just In
Politics

Biden moves to revoke normal trade relations with Russia and block imports of certain goods

Posted March 11, 2022 at 11:23 AM EST
President Biden stands at a presidential podium in front of an oil painting and flag, between two sets of wooden doors.
Mandel Ngan
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AFP via Getty Images
President Biden speaks from the Roosevelt Room of the White House on Friday.

President Biden on Friday announced new economic measures aimed at punishing Russia for its attack on Ukraine.

He said the United States, NATO, the EU and G-7 would revoke "most favored nation" status to Russia. That would make Russia one of just three countries — including Cuba and North Korea — to not have normal trade relationship with the U.S.

Biden said the move was backed by leaders from both parties in Congress and thanked House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for holding off on legislation needed to make the move until the White House could line up support from key allies for a coordinated move.

He also banned U.S. imports of Russian vodka, seafood and diamonds — which the White House said was worth more than $1 billion per year to Russia — and banned U.S. exports of watches, luxury vehicles, high-end clothing, alcohol and jewelry and other luxury goods to Russia, trade worth about $550 million per year.

More oligarchs were added to the sanctions list as well.

“They support Putin. They steal from the Russian people. And they seek to hide their money in our countries,” Biden said. “They must share in the pain of these sanctions.”

The G-7 also agreed that Russia cannot get financing from the IMF and World Bank, Biden said.

Biden also warned Russian President Vladimir Putin against using chemical weapons in Ukraine.

Asked whether the United States has intelligence about this threat, Biden said: “I’m not going to speak about the intelligence but Russia would pay a severe price if they use chemical weapons.”

Read more here.

Culture

A young Russian pianist’s shows are canceled, although he condemns the war in Ukraine

Posted March 11, 2022 at 11:00 AM EST

Russian pianist Alexander Malofeev, 20, has condemned his native country’s invasion and war against Ukraine. But that hasn’t kept a string of his concerts from being canceled in Canada, from Montreal to Vancouver. Arts organizations cite the war’s terrible toll on civilians, expressing solidarity with Ukraine — and with Ukrainian members of their community and staff. But Malofeev’s defenders say he’s being unfairly punished.

Malofeev had already arrived in Montreal for three dates with the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal when the concerts were canceled.

The orchestra said it wouldn’t be appropriate for Malofeev to perform, adding “We look forward to welcoming this exceptional artist when the context allows it,” according to the Montreal Gazette.

Malofeev expressed his disappointment via Facebook, apologizing to the audience and saying his concerts were nixed “due to political reasons.”

“Honestly, the only thing I can do now is to pray and cry,” the pianist said in another post this week. “It would seem that there are obvious conclusions: no problem can be solved by war, people cannot be judged by their nationality. But why, in a few days, has the whole world rolled back into a state where every person has a choice between fear and hatred?”

The famed young pianist said he has often been asked to make a statement about Ukraine — but, he added, “I feel very uncomfortable about this and also think that it can affect my family in Russia.”

As he described the dilemma he’s now in, Malofeev added, “I do understand that my problems are very insignificant compared to those of people in Ukraine, including my relatives who live there.”

After the Russian invasion, the OSM performed Ukraine's national anthem, saying that it "wishes to carry the universal message of music" and unite cultures. But after the Russian pianist's performances were called off, a commenter on that post asked, "If music is a universal message of peace, why are you banning Malofeev from performing? He is for peace and he is opposed to the war!"

In the U.S., the Metropolitan Opera in New York City recently dropped Russian soprano Anna Netrebko from upcoming performances, due to her longstanding association with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Malofeev recently had August performances canceled by the Vancouver Recital Society. Like many arts organizations, it’s resuming live programming after a long pandemic delay. But it’s also now coping with the fallout from its decision not to host Malofeev.

The Vancouver Recital Society said it could not “present a concert by any Russian artist at this moment in time unless they are prepared to speak out publicly against this war.”

Malofeev then posted, “The truth is that every Russian will feel guilty for decades because of the terrible and bloody decision that none of us could influence and predict.”

In an update responding to that message, the Vancouver organization said, “We are very grateful for his words.” But it stressed the need to show solidarity with Ukraine — and its desire to prevent “even one cent of the proceeds” from its concerts from going to the Russian government.

The recital society also said that if Malofeev were to perform, it would likely spark protests and the need for extra security.

“The truth is that many in our city don’t have the appetite for this concert at this time,” the Vancouver organization said.

Newsmaker
Military

Pentagon: A no-fly zone is off the table because it could escalate the war

Posted March 11, 2022 at 10:42 AM EST
A man in a suit stands at a podium in front of a sign with the Pentagon building and name on it.
Kevin Dietsch
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Getty Images
Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby holds a news briefing on Wednesday in Arlington, Va.

As pressure mounts on the United States and NATO allies to do more to help Ukrainians militarily, Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby told Morning Edition's Leila Fadel that the U.S. is unwilling to enforce a no-fly zone over Ukraine because that would escalate the conflict.

“The commander-in-chief has made it very clear: There will be no U.S. troops fighting in Ukraine; that includes in the skies over Ukraine," Kirby said. "We have to be very careful that we don’t make decisions, we don’t take actions, that escalate this conflict between two nuclear-powered nations, the United States and Russia.”

Kirby emphasized that escalation would not be in the national security interest of the U.S. nor European countries like Ukraine.

He stopped short of indicating any “red line” that could prompt the U.S. and NATO allies to engage militarily in Ukraine, and said the U.S. is focused on making sure Ukraine is able to continue defending itself.

Listen to the conversation and read highlights below.

On why a no-fly zone could escalate the conflict:

A no-fly zone has to be enforced, and the key word about that is "force." You have to be willing to engage in armed force to defend a no-fly zone, it is basically combat. You have to be willing to shoot down other aircraft and you have to be willing to be shot at. And our view is that that puts the United States in direct military confrontation with the Russians, and that has a very, very strong potential of escalating this conflict well beyond what it already is.

On delivering weapons and other defenses to Ukraine:

We're delivering — including over the last 24 hours — we’ve been delivering shipments of arms and material that we know the Ukrainians need and want [and] are using quite effectively, and there's more shipments coming. And it's not just from us, it's from 14 other nations ... We are talking anti-armor weapons, we’re talking air defense weapons and, again, there’s more coming.

On the ‘contested’ Ukrainian air space:

The air space over Ukraine is contested. The Russians certainly have more aircraft. They certainly have more missiles, and they’ve got the whole country blanketed, virtually, with surface-to-air missile capabilities, but that has not stopped the Ukrainians from being very effective in that realm.

On Ukrainians who say they need more help from the West:

None of this had to happen. This isn’t a proxy war. This is a war of choice that Mr. Putin has perpetrated on the people of Ukraine. He had every option diplomatically to avoid this war, before the 24th of February, and he basically ignored them and chose to go headlong into an armed conflict with a nation-state which posed no threat to him or to anybody else.

And so our message is to Ukrainians: We will stand with you, we know the sacrifices you are making and we are going to be working — as we have so hard and for so long — to get them the kinds of material and assistance that they need to fight back, to get them the humanitarian assistance that we know they need right now in desperate measure, to work with neighboring countries like Poland to help with whatever we can do on the evacuation side.

On the next steps for U.S. involvement:

What we’re going to do is focus on making sure the Ukrainians continue to defend themselves and that NATO can defend itself should there be any threat to NATO territory.

Diplomacy

The EU will welcome Ukraine, but won't fast-track its membership application

Posted March 11, 2022 at 9:27 AM EST
A group of men and women in suits stands in rows outside the Palace of Versailles.
Ludovic Marin
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AFP via Getty Images
EU leaders pose for a photograph at the Palace of Versailles near Paris on Thursday ahead of their summit to discuss the fallout of Russia's invasion in Ukraine.

European Union leaders are backing Ukraine's bid for membership — but through the traditional process that takes years, not the fast-tracked version for which Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has been pushing.

The European Council condemned Russia's military aggression and reiterated its support for Ukraine in a statement issued Thursday, halfway through a two-day summit at France's Palace of Versailles.

In response to Zelenskyy's formal application for membership, which he submitted on Feb. 28, officials said that "Ukraine belongs to our European family" but stopped short of extending an immediate welcome.

"The Council has acted swiftly and invited the Commission to submit its opinion on this application in accordance with the relevant provisions of the Treaties," it wrote. "Pending this and without delay, we will further strengthen our bonds and deepen our partnership to support Ukraine in pursuing its European path."

The statement was published at 3 a.m. local time after hours of debate, Politico notes. It also pledged to protect Ukrainian refugees, help Ukraine rebuild after the war and increase economic pressure on Russia and Belarus, while calling on Russia to withdraw immediately and unconditionally.

Ukraine signed an association agreement — which is considered a precursor to EU accession — with the EU in 2014. Following Russia's invasion last month, Zelenskyy has repeatedly called for the EU to admit Ukraine immediately under a "new special procedure."

EU leaders have expressed support for Ukraine and its bid for membership, while stressing that the official road to admission is a long and involved one.

What member countries are saying

Some EU countries have voiced their support for Ukraine's immediate accession in recent weeks.

The presidents of Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia published an open letter on Feb. 28 calling for the EU to admit Ukraine immediately.

"We call on the EU Member States to consolidate highest political support to Ukraine and enable the EU institutions to conduct steps to immediately grant Ukraine a EU candidate country status and open the process of negotiations," they wrote.

Leaders of those countries reiterated their calls at the Versailles summit, Deutsche Welle reports.

There are those "who think that .. Ukrainians are fighting for their lives and (deserve) a strong political message ... and those who are still debating the procedures," said Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Jansa.

Indeed, others — like the Netherlands and Germany — are not on board with the idea of speeding up Ukraine's application process.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has rejected the proposal, saying on Thursday, "It is very important that we continue to pursue the things that we have indeed decided in the past."

And Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said ahead of the summit that there was consensus in Western Europe against fast-tracking the process, according to Politico. He said the EU is treating Ukraine's application with unprecedented speed, but that it would take "months, maybe years, before you get to anything."

"What's important is that Ukraine has asked to be member of the EU (...) there is no fast track procedure to become member of the EU," he told reporters on Thursday.

Read below for details on the long path to EU membership.

Details on the long road to membership

A country wishing to join the EU must meet a set of conditions that are known as the "Copenhagen criteria" and include things like respect for democracy and rule of law. Then it can submit an application to the European Council, which in turn asks the European Commission to weigh in on whether it meets those criteria.

If so, the European Council must draw up a framework for negotiations — which can't start until all 27 member states agree. The negotiations cover 35 chapters of EU law, clustered into six groups.

Once they are complete, the Commission recommends the candidate country for membership, and the resulting treaty must be approved unanimously in the Council, a majority vote in the European Parliament and by national parliaments of each EU member state.

Accession negotiations take an average of five years, according to the think tank UK in a Changing Europe. It says the quickest countries to negotiate the process were Austria, Finland and Sweden in just under two years, while Croatia took nearly eight.

Five candidate countries are currently in the process of integrating EU legislation into national law: Albania, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia and Turkey (which began negotiations in 2005). Two others — Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina — are classified as "potential candidates" because they do not yet fulfill the EU's membership criteria.

Civilians

U.S. experts and leaders call for an investigation into possible Russian war crimes

Posted March 11, 2022 at 9:00 AM EST
A man walks a bicycle on a street lined with bombed-out buildings and covered in branches and debris from damaged buildings
Evgeniy Maloletka
/
AP
A man walks with a bicycle in a street damaged by shelling in Mariupol, Ukraine, on Thursday.

The White House has called for an investigation into if Russian forces are committing war crimes in Ukraine. An expert tells NPR that evidence of war crimes is "undoubtable" and that Putin and his generals may face indictment by the International Criminal Court swiftly if an investigation goes forward.

"Pregnant women going for health care? Being injured by, I don’t know, a missile? A bomb? In an unprovoked, unjustified war?" U.S. Vice President Harris said Thursday in Poland. "Absolutely, there should be an investigation."

Conditions in the port city of Mariupol in southern Ukraine have deteriorated further for civilians. A maternity hospital was attacked Wednesday by Russian forces and food and water are becoming scarce within the city.

Mariupol's deputy Mayor Serhiy Orlov said the city is using mass graves to bury the bodies of civilians. Around 1,200 civilians have died in Mariupol since Russia invaded two weeks ago, he said.

President Zelenskyy has also accused the Kremlin of war crimes.

Ambassador David Scheffer says there is undoubtable evidence of possible war crimes. "That is undoubtable — of course that is taking place," said Scheffer, who was the first U.S. ambassador at large on war crime issues, in the 1990s. He spoke to Morning Edition.

Scheffer says that if the ICC does investigate, indictments for Putin and his generals could come swiftly due to the amount of evidence.

Continue below for more from the interview orlisten here.

On whether there is evidence that Russia has committed war crimes:

That is undoubtable, of course that is taking place. This is the most heavily covered combat situation we have seen in history on a day-by-day, hourly basis. So the evidence is coming in by video, and by testimony and audio from Ukraine.

On the chances of Russia facing consequences at the International Criminal Court, despite not being a member:

I think they are extremely real ... When that investigation proceeds, I would predict that within two to three months, I would expect you will actually see indictments come down, because the criminality is so obvious, they will come down against Putin and the generals. Once they do that, then the sanctions will not be lifted until they are surrendered to The Hague.

On Russia also committing crimes of aggression, which makes any of its military actions in Ukraine illegal:

One can argue that having invaded Ukraine, everything the Russian military does in Ukraine that injures civilians, that violates these laws of war, everything that they do is actually illegal. In other words, every firing of artillery, every firing of missiles, every movement of those convoys into civilian areas, all the destruction of civilian property itself is per se illegal because it’s part of a war of aggression. So ultimately, we will parse out individual evidence as to whether they are a war crime or a crime against humanity.

On the definition of a war crime:

A series of rules that have been memorialized in conventions as well as in what we call customary international law, so that combatants fight each other with a minimum level of civilized conduct, but they also do so to protect civilian populations during conduct, to ensure the proper protection of prisoners of war and to ensure that particular types of weapons, such as chemical weapons, biological weapons, expanding bullets, are not used during combat.

Evacuations

Ukrainian boy travels 620 miles to safety, a phone number written on his hand

Posted March 11, 2022 at 8:19 AM EST
A Ukrainian boy named Hassan, 11, smiles after being welcomed across the border in Slovakia.
Ministry of the Interior of the Slovak Republic
A Ukrainian boy named Hassan, 11, smiles after being welcomed across the border in Slovakia.

An 11-year-old Ukrainian boy named Hassan was treated to a hero’s welcome in Slovakia this week, when he crossed the border after traveling 1,000 kilometers (roughly 620 miles) alone, fleeing the war with Russia. His mother had sent him to safety, unable to leave herself.

“The boy came all alone with a plastic bag, passport and a telephone number written on his hand,” the Slovak Embassy in the U.K. said, in a Facebook posting about Hassan’s trek. Officials praised him for “his smile, fearlessness and determination of a real hero.”

Interior Minister Roman Mikulec says Hassan and his siblings have asked for temporary protection, posting images showing him meeting with the boy and other children at a table with snacks and sodas.

“I am very grateful that they saved the life of my child,” the boy's mother, Yulia Pisetskaya, said in a video posted to Facebook that was translated by the embassy. She thanked the customs guards and volunteers who took care of her son and made sure he crossed the border safely.

“In your small country, there are people with big hearts,” she said.

A phone number was written on Hassan's hand to help him reach relatives in the Slovak Republic.
Ministry of the Interior of the Slovak Republic
A phone number was written on Hassan's hand to help him reach relatives.

Pisetskaya, who is widowed, said her town is next to a nuclear power plant that Russian forces have been attacking. She reportedly put her son on a train in southeastern Ukraine, where Russian troops recently assaulted the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant.

“I couldn’t leave my mother — she can’t move on her own,” she added.

Just before ending the video, Pisetskaya wept, with her hand over her heart.

Thanks to the number on his hand, the interior ministry says it was able to contact Hassan’s relatives who came for him after his arrival.

Analysis
Military

Russia's attack on Zaporizhzhia actually came close to disaster, NPR analysis finds

Posted March 11, 2022 at 8:10 AM EST

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Last week's assault by Russian forces on the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant was far more dangerous than initial assessments suggested, according to an analysis by NPR of video and photographs of the attack and its aftermath.

A thorough review of a four-hour, 21-minute security camera video of the attack reveals that Russian forces repeatedly fired heavy weapons in the direction of the plant's massive reactor buildings, which housed dangerous nuclear fuel.

Photos show that an administrative building directly in front of the reactor complex was shredded by Russian fire. And a video from inside the plant shows damage and a possible Russian shell that landed less than 250 feet from the Unit 2 reactor building.

The security camera footage also shows Russian troops haphazardly firing rocket-propelled grenades into the main administrative building at the plant and turning away Ukrainian firefighters even as a fire raged out of control in a nearby training building.

The evidence stands in stark contrast to early comments by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which while acknowledging the seriousness of the assault, emphasized that the action took place away from the reactors.

In a news conference immediately after the attack, IAEA Director-General Rafael Mariano Grossi made reference to only a single projectile hitting a training building adjacent to the reactor complex.

"All the safety systems of the six reactors at the plant were not affected at all," Grossi told reporters at the March 4 briefing.

In fact, the training building took multiple strikes, and it was hardly the only part of the site to take fire from Russian forces.

The security footage supports claims by Ukraine's nuclear regulator of damage at three other locations: the Unit 1 reactor building, the transformer at the Unit 6 reactor and the spent fuel pad, which is used to store nuclear waste. It also shows ordnance striking a high-voltage line outside the plant. The IAEA says two such lines were damaged in the attack.

"This video is very disturbing," says Edwin Lyman, director of nuclear power safety at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

While the types of reactors used at the plant are far safer than the one that exploded in Chernobyl in 1986, the Russian attack could have triggered a meltdown similar to the kind that struck Japan's Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in 2011, he warns.

"It's completely insane to subject a nuclear plant to this kind of an assault," Lyman says.

In a news conference on Thursday, Grossi said that he had met with Ukrainian and Russian officials but failed to reach an agreement to avoid future attacks on Ukraine's other nuclear plants. "I'm aiming at having something relatively soon," he told reporters in Vienna.

Click here to read the full story and see the footage for yourself.

On the ground

Russia is shelling western Ukraine, suggesting a new strategy after early failures

Posted March 11, 2022 at 8:06 AM EST
People enter and leave an underground walkway during an air raid siren in Lviv, Ukraine, on Friday.
Claire Harbage
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NPR
People enter and leave an underground walkway during an air raid siren in Lviv, Ukraine, on Friday.

When air raid warnings sounded in cities in western Ukraine today, NPR journalists were among those who sought safety in underground bomb shelters.

Russian strikes hit near two airports on Friday, in an indication that its military offensive is widening.

"They're hitting cities not far from the borders with NATO allies," Morning Edition host Leila Fadel reports from western Ukraine. "And this suggests one way that Russia may be adapting after its early failures in the war."

The strikes on a military airfield in Lutsk killed two Ukrainian servicemen and wounded six people, while those on an airport near Ivano-Frankiivsk sent residents to underground shelters. Read more here.

NPR's Ryan Lucas spoke to Morning Edition from nearby Lviv about how Russia's strategy may — or may not — be changing. Listen to the conversation here and read on for details.

Russian strikes appear to be expanding to new regions

The cities Russia targeted on Friday are hundreds of miles from the fighting that's raging in the north, east and south of Ukraine.

Lucas says that Russia did hit military targets this far west — and even a little farther — in the earliest days of the war, but these cities have "generally been safe and unscathed" so far.

The convoy near Kyiv has fanned out to nearby areas

The massive Russian convoy of tanks and military vehicles that has been stalled outside of Kyiv for days appears to be moving once again. New satellite imagery from Maxar Technologies shows it dispersing, with some of the vehicles moving into wooded areas nearby.

"Ukrainian forces had been harassing this convoy, hitting it with anti-tank missiles and really slowing Russia down," Lucas explains. "But with this redeployment, now Russia's offensive against Kyiv could be entering a new phase."

Kyiv's mayor said last night that the capital is under threat, with the city and military working to essentially turn it into a fortress, Lucas said. But he added that a renewed Russian offensive in Kyiv would also spell bad news for the towns and villages on its outskirts, where residents are desperate to leave after days of heavy fighting.

Russians are still making it hard for most civilians to leave

After days of failed cease-fires, many Ukrainians are still trying to flee the country — and thousands of them are succeeding.

In many instances, cease-fires broke down after Russian forces shelled evacuation routes and killed civilians. But Lucas says that some have held in the last few days, and some Ukrainians have been able to escape.

Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said last night that some 80,000 civilians were able to escape cities under Russian attack, including the northeastern city of Sumy, in the last two days.

That's an exception, Lucas emphasizes, since temporary cease-fires have failed more often than not. He points to the southeastern city of Mariupol, where Russian strikes hit a maternity hospital earlier this week, as an example.

Mariupol officials and residents say there is no heat or water, with food supplies running low. Vereshchuk called the situation "truly a humanitarian catastrophe." Lucas notes there are more efforts to reach another cease-fire today to help civilians get out.