What it's like living in Ukraine's warzone : State of Ukraine Ukraine's army is slowing Russia's invasion to a crawl. But there is still heavy fighting in the South, with many civilians living in the crossfire. For them, the war has started to feel like a deadly kind of normal.

What it's like living in Ukraine's warzone

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/1095874369/1095874715" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

MARY LOUISE KELLY, BYLINE: This is STATE OF UKRAINE, a special podcast from NPR bringing you the latest news on the crisis in Ukraine.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

In Ukraine, around 100 civilians were evacuated from the bunkers beneath a steel plant in the besieged city of Mariupol. They had been sheltered there for weeks. The civilians are expected to reach the Ukrainian-controlled city of Zaporizhzhia today. But reports say as soon as evacuations ended, Russian shelling resumed. Still, Ukraine's army has managed to slow Russia's invasion to a crawl in the region. Both sides are trading artillery fire as ground troops fight battles in small towns and villages. NPR's Brian Mann reports from southern Ukraine, where many civilians are living in the crossfire.

BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: We leave Mykolaiv mid-morning. It's the last fortified city along the Black Sea fully controlled by Ukraine beyond its contested ground. We reach a village called Lymani, where two elderly women, Olga and Helena, are sitting on a bench. They're enjoying the spring sunshine, sharing a jar of pickles. I ask why they're still here.

OLGA: (Speaking Ukrainian).

MANN: "What did we do? Where should we go," Olga says.

HELENA: (Speaking Ukrainian).

MANN: Helena says, "look, we're old. We don't want to leave our home and our village." But as we speak, there's a rumble of artillery fire close by.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARTILLERY FIRE)

OLGA: (Speaking Ukrainian).

HELENA: (Speaking Ukrainian).

MANN: The women grin and say, that's our Ukrainian army saying hello to the other side. And they're right. That's the sound of Ukrainian artillery blasting at Russian positions a few miles away.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARTILLERY FIRE)

MANN: Olga and Helena both say they're fiercely loyal to the Ukrainian side.

HELENA: (Speaking Ukrainian).

MANN: "The Russians are on our land. We didn't invite them here," Helena says. But the women also admit feeling frightened and lonely.

OLGA: (Speaking Ukrainian).

MANN: Olga says she lives alone in a war zone. Her family all passed away long ago. We leave the women with their jar of pickles and travel with a Ukrainian military escort to a village even closer to the Russian lines called Shevchenkovo. Alexy, the Ukrainian soldier who's guiding us, leads the way inside a bomb-shattered elementary school that's been abandoned since the Russians pushed into this area.

(SOUNDBITE OF GLASS CRUNCHING)

MANN: There's broken glass and rubble everywhere.

ALEXY: Every day, this village, our neighbors are under shelling - every day. Nobody know why. Nobody know.

MANN: It's one thing to hear people talk about living under this kind of constant threat. It's another thing to experience it.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARTILLERY FIRE)

MANN: The Russians attack, firing a barrage of artillery at the school.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARTILLERY FIRE)

MANN: We run for the cellar as rockets explode in the schoolyard. It's terrifying, but no one is injured. So far, Ukraine's army has managed to fight Russia to a standstill. But as we huddle in the dark basement, Alexy says the Russians have turned this part of his country into a killing zone.

ALEXY: It's very dangerous to stay here.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Speaking Ukrainian).

(SOUNDBITE OF DOG BARKING)

MANN: But people do stay here. We also visit Kotliareve, a village where Alexy shows us house after house damaged by Russian missiles.

ALEXY: One here, one there and one there.

MANN: A woman named Svetlana points to a neighbor's destroyed house. The man who lived there, she says, was killed in one of the missile strikes.

SVETLANA: (Speaking Ukrainian).

MANN: "Of course I knew him," she says. "It's a small village. Everyone knows everyone." Then she says, it's all frightening.

SVETLANA: (Speaking Ukrainian).

MANN: But one thing that's troubling here is a phrase I hear the villagers say over and over.

LEONID: After two months, it's normal situation.

MANN: That's Leonid, who runs a shop in Kotliareve. Like Olga and Helena and Svetlana, he says it already feels like this war has been going on forever, like this is the new normal. I ask Leonid if he thinks peace will return to his village anytime soon.

LEONID: I hope. I hope.

MANN: Yeah.

LEONID: We can just hope.

MANN: Good luck. I hope you stay safe.

But of course, that's a foolish thing for me to say. The violence brought by the Russians may feel like a terrible new kind of normal, but until the fighting here ends, these villagers will never be safe. Brian Mann, NPR News, southern Ukraine.

Copyright © 2022 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.