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German Chancellor Scholz is in Kyiv to meet with Ukraine's president

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Germany's chancellor, Olaf Scholz, is in Ukraine today. It's the first stop in a trip that will also take him to Moscow, and it's the latest attempt by Western leaders to defuse the threat of a Russian invasion of Ukraine, which the U.S. is warning could happen at any moment. In a few moments, we will talk to the former ambassador - former U.S. ambassador - to Ukraine about the American diplomatic strategy. But first, NPR's Joanna Kakissis is with us from Ukraine's capital, Kyiv.

Good morning, Joanna.

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: What are you hearing about what Ukrainians want to hear from the German chancellor?

KAKISSIS: So Ukrainians want Western leaders, including Olaf Scholz, to communicate something other than panic. I mean, more than a dozen countries, including Germany and the U.S., have told their citizens to get out of Ukraine immediately. And many embassies, including the American Embassy, say they're planning to move at least some of their operations from the capital Kyiv, where I am, to the city of Lviv in western Ukraine. Ukraine's neighbor Poland has also opened its border to Americans heading west.

MARTIN: And Lviv and that direction - I mean, that's going to be the way out for many people who are trying to evacuate Ukraine if the airport shuts down, right?

KAKISSIS: Yeah, that's right. Lviv is in the far west of Ukraine. The Polish border is less than a two-hour drive away. Hungary, Slovakia and Romania are also close. These countries are all NATO members, and they're also members of the European Union. I just spent a couple of days reporting in Lviv. And the Ukrainians I spoke to there are really disappointed that so many Western countries are telling their citizens to flee. I met a tour guide, Ivanka Gonak, who told me Ukrainians are feeling very alone.

IVANKA GONAK: I'm a mother of three children, and I'm a bit desperate because I don't know if Ukraine should rely on the help of international community. Each family that I know - they have their emergency backpacks. They feel they might need to run any moment.

KAKISSIS: And, you know, most Ukrainians - they do not want to run. Remember, they have lived with Russia as an aggressive neighbor for many years. The Ukrainians I spoke to joked that the only locals - the only Ukrainians who are actually running away are the oligarchs who flew away on their private planes over the weekend.

MARTIN: So the German chancellor is going to meet with Ukraine's president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Is that going to be tense, Joanna? - because many Ukrainians have not been very pleased with how Germany has handled this crisis.

KAKISSIS: Yeah. The Ukrainians feel like the German government is trying too hard to play nice with Russia. When I was in Lviv, I spoke to the mayor there, Andriy Sadovyi. He says Germany has weakened itself by partnering with Russia on a major gas pipeline called Nord Stream 2. He's angry that Germany continued to move forward with Nord Stream 2 even after Russia's 2014 invasion of Ukraine. He got really emotional discussing this.

ANDRIY SADOVYI: It is crazy. It is crazy. (Speaking Ukrainian).

KAKISSIS: And he's switching to Ukrainian here and saying, "the whole world needs to wake up - wake up - when it comes to Russia."

Scholz has been cautious with Russia, but he has promised tough sanctions if Russia attacks Ukraine. And Nord Stream 2 is definitely on the table as a sanction option today. He's expected to speak with prime - or with President Zelenskyy about how to stabilize the Ukrainian economy. International fears have taken a real toll on Ukraine's currency, and that's a big issue here right now.

MARTIN: Have you gotten a sense, Joanna, from the Ukrainians you've talked to as to whether they have any faith in diplomacy at this point?

KAKISSIS: I mean, Ukrainians are like, if we have to do this alone, that's what we're going to do. They are - they've gotten used to it after so many years of living next to an aggressive neighbor.

MARTIN: NPR's Joanna Kakissis reporting from the capital of Ukraine, Kyiv. Joanna, thank you for all your reporting. We appreciate it.

KAKISSIS: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.