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A report from Kharkiv and other war updates


Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is warning that thousands of Russian troops are getting ready for a major assault on the southeastern part of the country. New satellite images show an eight-mile-long convoy of Russian armored vehicles and trucks moving in that direction. Officials in the east continue to urge civilians to flee before time runs out.

For more, we turn now to NPR's Eyder Peralta, who's in Ukraine's eastern city of Kharkiv. Hi, Eyder.


CHANG: So what else do we know about this pivot to the eastern part of Ukraine by the Russian military?

PERALTA: The Ukrainian government is saying that some Russian troops are regrouping in Belarus, some are moving south, and that they expect a new offensive soon. A senior American defense official told my colleague Tom Bowman that the Americans are seeing a Russian column of support battalions, infantry and helicopters moving south into the Donbas region. The U.S. believes that they are planning to try to take a town called Izium, which is of strategic importance here.

And we certainly have seen signs that the attacks here are intensifying. Of course, you had the airstrike on the Kramatorsk train station on Friday. But yesterday, the airport at a major hub here in the east, a town called Dnipro, was completely destroyed by a Russian strike.

CHANG: Wow. Well, you are talking to us from Kharkiv, a city that has also endured some of the worst of Russia's attacks since this war started. Can you just tell us - what are you seeing there firsthand right now?

PERALTA: Yeah. Look - right now, the city is in almost complete darkness. And in the distance, you can hear the constant sound of shells and mortars. And as we made our way through the city, we saw buildings that have been hit by missiles. People here sleep in bunkers. Others are living in subway stations.

But what I found remarkable is that some of the people who have stayed have almost gotten used to this war. I'll give you one example. Irina Sudesteva (ph) has decided to stay here in Kharkiv, in large part because her 92-year-old mother can't get out of bed, and she lives on the fifth floor. And we were talking amid the sounds of shelling, and she barely flinched.

IRINA SUDESTEVA: (Speaking Russian).


SUDESTEVA: (Speaking Russian).

PERALTA: Is this what you hear all night?

SUDESTEVA: (Through interpreter) Yeah, yeah - pretty much all night. But if we have two dualities, if we have two poles of that, you have two choices. It's either to be fully afraid or live your life for the fullest.

PERALTA: And we shouldn't take that as bravado, I mean, because what she told me is that she actually wishes that those were not the choices in front of her. And all the people I spoke to today told me the same thing - that they hope that this war ends soon.

CHANG: Yeah. Well, Eyder, I'm wondering, is any of this that's happening in Kharkiv telling us about what we might see later on in this conflict? What do you think?

PERALTA: Yeah. I think it tells us that this conflict is full of uncertainty. Here in Kharkiv, people are wondering if the Russian troops will retreat like they did in the capital Kyiv, or if they will reinforce their positions and make a move for the city. And I think the big fear is devastation. We've seen towns in this country flattened. And here, we hear artillery fire all the time.

And when you talk to people coming in from the northern suburbs, some of which are occupied by Russian soldiers, they say that their homes have been destroyed, that their communities are now in rubble. So the biggest fear is that as this conflict gets started in new fronts, that kind of destruction and displacement will follow.

CHANG: Yeah. Well, I want to turn to another development because Russia just recently announced a new commander who will oversee its war on Ukraine. What do we know about this individual?

PERALTA: So he is Aleksandr Dvornikov, and he's 60, and he had been in charge of the southern section of this war. Specifically, he oversaw the siege of Mariupol. That city has been encircled by Russian troops, which have shelled it constantly and cut it off from the world. Dvornikov has also overseen Russian forces in Syria, where he was known as the butcher of Syria and where Russian troops have been accused of committing war crimes.

CHANG: That is NPR's Eyder Peralta talking to us from Ukraine's eastern city of Kharkiv. Thank you, Eyder.

PERALTA: Thank you, Ailsa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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.

Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.