DAVID GREENE, HOST:
In eastern Ukraine, government forces are battling pro-Russian forces over control of the city of Luhansk. It's one of the two separatist strong holds. NPR's Soraya Sarhdaddi Nelson spent yesterday embedded with Ukrainian troops. She sent this reporter's notebook on the challenges of working in a war zone.
SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: All week, Ukraine has been claiming pro-Russian separatists killed dozens of refugees fleeing the fighting in Luhansk. Ukrainian National Security Council spokesman, Andriy Lysenko, described the attack through an official translator.
ANDRIY LYSENKO: (Through translator) The terrorists fired at a column of peaceful residents who tried to leave the zone of combat action. Many people died, including women and children.
NELSON: If true, Monday's shelling attack will be the largest single incident of civilian deaths in the escalating war here. But Ukrainian officials offered no proof - no photos - no videos - no eye witnesses or survivors. Pro-Russian separatists, meanwhile, denied the attack took place and say even it if did, they didn't do it. Finding out who is right is impossible, given both are preventing reporters from getting to the embattled area. So I jumped at the chance the Ukrainian military offered a few reporters yesterday, saying it would take us to a hospital on the outskirts of Luhansk to interview refugees who were injured in the attack. A handful of soldiers led our convoy of taxis into the no-go zone along the front lines. We hit our first snag just after the besieged city of Luhansk appeared in the distance. Our military escort explains that unexpected fighting up ahead requires us to change course. The shelling in the distance punctuated those concerns, and we watched a couple of army trucks drive off in that direction. Later, we were told the rebels knew our media convoy was here and planned to attack us.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Foreign language spoken).
NELSON: This Ukrainian journalist asks how do you know? The media escort's answer is vague - something about intercepted radio communications. We moved to a nearby hilltop while the escort leaders talks with his bosses to figure out what to do next. Ukrainian troops are camped here and give us a rare glimpse into the poor conditions Ukrainian troops operate under. One soldier is Vitaliy Yakymenko.
VITALIY YAKYMENKO: (Foreign language spoken).
NELSON: He complains poor planning and a shortage of supplies, including ammunition, are costing soldiers their lives. He claims the enemy has better arms and equipment, which are widely believed to come from Russia even though the Kremlin denies it.
YAKYMENKO: (Foreign language spoken).
NELSON: Contrary to Kiev's claims that the rebels are nearing defeat, Yakymenko believes that a Ukrainian victory is a long way off. He says, we will have conflicts here again and again until the Ukrainian government closes the border with Russia. Fellow soldier Grygoriy Pisarenko says supply shortages aren't the only impediment.
GRYGORIY PISARENKO: (Foreign language spoken).
NELSON: He says Ukrainian troops have to be very cautious when they advance to minimize civilian debts and damage to infrastructure. Pisarenko explains, we are in our own country. And these are our people. So we have to take care even if the Russians don't. As to the deadly attack on the refugee convoy, I still can't tell you what happened for sure as the Ukrainian military decided things were too dangerous and we needed to leave before meeting the refugees. Officials offered us a witness to convoy attack instead. But we never met him either. Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR, News.
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