The latest in Ukraine
AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:
Now to Ukraine, where Russian troops have pushed into the outskirts of Kyiv. Overall, though, they have faced stiffer resistance from the Ukrainian army than some Western defense officials expected. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has offered to have talks with Russia to stop the violence, while Russian President Vladimir Putin has urged the Ukrainian army to overthrow him.
For more, we turn to Frank Langfitt. He's to the west of the capital. Hi, Frank.
FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Hi, Ayesha.
RASCOE: Frank, what is the state of play militarily in the country right now?
LANGFITT: Yeah, it's very fluid. But at the moment, Russian armor (ph) today was able to make it into a district north of downtown. But people in Kyiv that I've just talked to tonight said troops have not entered the city's center.
I was talking to a former parliamentarian named Lesya Orobets. Her husband works in the downtown patrolling kind of the government area. She said about six Russian troops killed today about eight miles from the heart of the city. She also said yesterday an air attack on the headquarters of the military intelligence, but it had actually missed.
Now, senior defense official said today that there's a massive amphibious assault underway in the Sea of Azov, heading towards - actually it's to the west of the Port of Mariupol. Thousands of naval infantry coming ashore, heading east to the Donbas. While Ukrainians are clearly fighting very hard, Russia has only used maybe a third of the 190,000-plus troops on the border. So the concern here is where will the next attack come from?
RASCOE: On the political front, both sides have talked about the possibility of having talks. Where does that stand?
LANGFITT: Sergei Lavrov - he's the Russian foreign minister. He said talks would have to include Russia's plans to replace the government. This, of course, is not going to be appealing to President Zelenskyy who was democratically elected.
And as to Putin's urging the military to overthrow him, the government appears to be united. This evening, President Zelenskyy put out a video with fellow government leaders. Let's give a listen.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
PRESIDENT VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY: (Non-English language spoken).
LANGFITT: The leader of the party is here, he says. The presidential administration is here. We're all here. Our soldiers are here. We're all protecting our independence.
I talked to Lesya Orobets about this and she said, you know, she was not a fan of the president, but she says the country's rallying.
LESYA OROBETS: So definitely, our army has a lot on their plates, and coup d'etat is not on their schedule definitely. I mean, like, we all stay united.
RASCOE: And so at this moment, you know, speaking of President Zelenskyy, how is President Zelenskyy rising to this point and to this crisis?
LANGFITT: I think pretty well so far. He was not popular coming into this situation, this war. He's a former comedian, not really the first choice anybody might have for wartime president, but he's been making some very forceful addresses.
He's been very sober. He's demanded more help from the West. He's been, you know, very critical, obviously, of the Russians. And today, he actually announced that he's on a Russian hit list to be assassinated.
RASCOE: Wow. Frank, I understand you've been driving through central Ukraine today. Can you give us a sense of how the invasion is changing the country?
LANGFITT: By the day, Ayesha. We stopped at a village. There were a crowd of men. They were outside what kind of looked like an old Soviet-era theater. And they were volunteering to join the military. And I talked to the military commander inside - he was dividing people into units - and kind of asked him how things were going. And he said what everybody says here is they just need more weapons, particularly surface-to-air missiles, would love to have NATO declare a no-fly zone.
That's very unlikely because NATO's very concerned about the risk of conflict with Russia, which of course, is a nuclear power. And this guy I was talking to, this military commander, he had this weary, somber expression on his face. And referring to NATO, he said this.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Non-English language spoken).
LANGFITT: "I wouldn't wish them to be in our situation."
RASCOE: As you traveled, did you get a sense that the situation is getting worse?
LANGFITT: Yeah, you can really feel it. We drove down roads where people were piling up sandbags and just opening building checkpoints. We were at a convenience store where suddenly over the intercom, we heard there was a risk of an airstrike, and everyone went rushing out. And then when we got to the town where we are right now, we ended up having to go into a bomb shelter.
And I guess for me, the lasting image of today was in this bomb shelter. It's beneath a kindergarten. And this was a place where teachers had set up all these little beds for the children in a separate room so they could get some sleep during air raids.
RASCOE: Oh, my goodness. Well, NPR's Frank Langfitt in central Ukraine. Thanks, Frank, and please stay safe.
LANGFITT: Thanks. It's great to talk, Ayesha.
(SOUNDBITE OF STS9'S "TOKYO") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.