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Russian forces appear to be withdrawing from Kyiv, moving to cities in south and east


The Red Cross is trying to help Ukrainians evacuate a besieged city on the country's southeastern coast. The aid organization turned back yesterday from Mariupol due to intense fighting. They say they'll make another attempt today. That's amid a round of peace talks and what appears to be a Russian withdrawal from the outskirts of Kyiv. NPR's Elissa Nadworny is in Kyiv and joins us. Elissa, thanks for being with us.


SIMON: What's happening on the ground?

NADWORNY: So around Kyiv and in northern Ukraine, Russian forces are withdrawing. You know, this idea that early in the days of the war, Russia could capture the capital city - that's long gone now. But, you know, we don't know yet where these Russian troops are going to be redirected to. The Pentagon says they aren't going home. But, you know, now, as areas previously held by Russian forces are opening up around Kyiv - like the suburb of Irpin - video footage and firsthand reports of what happened there are pretty devastating - documented reports of rape, dead bodies lying on the street, homes destroyed. The mayor of Irpin is saying to residents, just because Ukrainian forces have taken it back, it is not yet safe to come home.

SIMON: And what are the conditions elsewhere in Ukraine?

NADWORNY: Well, across the country, fighting continues, you know, especially in the east in the Donbas region. And overnight, Russian missiles hit a number of cities, including two in central Ukraine, damaging infrastructure and residential buildings, according to officials. In the south, Russia is mobilizing troops in a small sliver of unrecognized land between Ukraine and Moldova called Transnistria, according to the general staff of Ukraine's armed forces. And the worry there is those forces could threaten Odesa, which is on the Black Sea.

SIMON: Elissa, of course, there is an attack on a fuel depot in the Russian city of Belgorod, which is near the Ukrainian border. What do we know about that?

NADWORNY: So Russia has said that the attacks came from low-flying Ukrainian helicopters, but Ukraine's top security officials deny it. You know, the place is heavily militarized. So the significance of the hit is that it could really hamper Russia's ability to move supplies to areas in Ukraine, specifically in the Kharkiv area. And Russia has said that this attack could also impact peace talks, which are ongoing.

SIMON: The U.N. estimates that more than 10 million people have had to flee their homes in Ukraine. That number is simply staggering. What is being done to help those who still can't get out?

NADWORNY: Yeah, so Ukrainian officials say they're working every day to set up evacuation corridors to get people out of the places in the east and the south that are trapped. Just yesterday, the deputy prime minister said 6,000 residents around Mariupol and in the east from Luhansk made it out. But larger-scale efforts have met major challenges. On Friday, the Red Cross attempted to set up a big humanitarian aid convoy to Mariupol, that seaside city that's just been devastated by Russian forces. And they had to turn back. They deemed it too unsafe. The Red Cross says they're going to plan to try again today.

SIMON: And what's Kyiv like at the moment?

NADWORNY: Well, you know, it's quiet here. You know, I've been talking with people who are in the territorial defense about what their sense is of kind of where we are in this war. And people are skeptical of Russia's withdrawal. You know, they're buckling down, preparing for months more of war. I talked with a woman named Iryna Cherhava (ph). She's a medic with a battalion here.

IRYNA CHERHAVA: (Non-English language spoken).

NADWORNY: You know, she told me she's been sleeping in her full uniform because with missiles, you never know where the front line is. She says she does have moments of hope. A few days ago, she started taking off her jacket before she's going to bed. And she laughs, but she thinks, you know, maybe that's a small sign that things are getting better.

SIMON: NPR's Elissa Nadworny in Kyiv. Thanks so much.

NADWORNY: You bet, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Elissa Nadworny reports on all things college for NPR, following big stories like unprecedented enrollment declines, college affordability, the student debt crisis and workforce training. During the 2020-2021 academic year, she traveled to dozens of campuses to document what it was like to reopen during the coronavirus pandemic. Her work has won several awards including a 2020 Gracie Award for a story about student parents in college, a 2018 James Beard Award for a story about the Chinese-American population in the Mississippi Delta and a 2017 Edward R. Murrow Award for excellence in innovation.