ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Tension continues to build in eastern Ukraine as Russia appears committed to a major new offensive. This comes as fighting continues in the city of Mariupol and as Russian artillery and missiles land in the city of Kharkiv. NPR's Brian Mann is in Odesa, a southern port city on the Black Sea, and he joins us now. Hi, Brian.
BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: Hi, Ari.
SHAPIRO: Let's start with the latest on the Russian warship that sank this week. It sounds like we're learning more about what happened.
MANN: Yeah. We've known the flagship of Vladimir Putin's fleet in the Black Sea was seriously damaged Wednesday and then sunk to being towed to port. Hundreds of sailors evacuated with Turkish officials saying they rescued some of the crew. It's still unclear whether sailors died or were injured in this incident. But today a senior U.S. defense official confirmed to NPR that the cruiser was hit by a pair of Ukrainian missiles fired from shore. So this is another big win for Ukraine's military. They took out an important Russian command ship and also notched a big symbolic victory. Everyone here in Ukraine, Ari, is talking about this, a big morale boost.
SHAPIRO: But it's not all good news for Ukraine. There are reports that the city of Mariupol could soon fall to Russian assault. What can you tell us about that?
MANN: Yeah. It's very hard to get good information from Mariupol. The city - completely surrounded. Ukrainian soldiers did post on social media earlier in the week that the situation there is dire - a lot of casualties, very few supplies. We spoke to a military official here in Odesa who said many of the last civilians are trying to escape, some walking more than 20 miles. And there are reports that fighting does continue but not clear how long those defenders can hold out. Turning to the city of Kharkiv, Russian shelling continues there. And we've heard reports of civilians killed in those strikes. In his latest address, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy accused Russia of trying to destroy Kharkiv.
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PRESIDENT VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY: (Speaking Ukrainian).
MANN: Zelenskyy describes Kharkiv as a proud city, and he asks, what can be achieved by burning it? And we're hearing this question from a lot of people here. They're outraged by Russia's aggression and by what appears to be indiscriminate attacks on these civilian areas. There were also explosions reported yesterday around Kyiv. Russia says that strike targeted a missile factory.
SHAPIRO: And we mentioned that Russia is preparing another major push in the east. How nervous are Ukrainians about that?
MANN: You know, morale here is really high in my conversations with civilians and soldiers, more anger than fear. I spoke today with Juliana Bragina, who lives here in Odesa. Her parents actually live in Saint Louis in the U.S., so she could easily get out. But she decided to stay.
JULIANA BRAGINA: I just can hope for something, you know? And I hope that everything's going to be good for Ukraine, that Ukraine will fight and rise up after that and that our warriors - they will defend the country.
MANN: But, you know, Ari, Bragina did tell me that one thing she does fear are these reports of rape and sexual assaults by Russian soldiers against Ukrainian women.
BRAGINA: I have read this reports, and I just sat, you know, freezed (ph) for a few hours and cried sometimes. You know, I thought it couldn't get worse, the attitude Russians couldn't get worse. But I find out that it's possible.
MANN: So Bragina told me her family is keeping their bags packed so they can flee quickly if the Russian army does break through.
SHAPIRO: NPR's Brian Mann in Odesa. Thank you.
MANN: Thank you.
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