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Ukraine reels from a devastating week

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Now to Ukraine, which is still reeling from a devastating week - a missile attack on an apartment building that killed dozens of civilians, a helicopter crash that damaged a kindergarten and killed several children, along with the country's interior minister, and there was continued fighting in the country's east and south. NPR's Elissa Nadworny is in Kyiv and is with us now to tell us the latest. Elissa, thanks so much for being with us.

ELISSA NADWORNY, BYLINE: Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: I just wanted to start with this meeting this past Friday, where top U.S. defense officials met in Germany with defense officials from dozens of countries. Can you just tell us what they were there to talk about and what came of the meeting?

NADWORNY: So leaders were meeting to discuss Ukraine's self-defense - essentially, the war effort. The news we were all expecting to come from those meetings was that Germany would finally authorize the export of battle tanks to Ukraine. That didn't happen. Germany says it's still considering it, but there are concerns about antagonizing Russia. But there's still a lot of foreign pressure to send these Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine. And Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has been really adamant that time is of the essence when it comes to getting these tanks, getting weapons. Here's Zelenskyy addressing defense leaders on Friday.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY: Every unit counts to save our people from terror. But time - time remains a Russian weapon. We have to speed up. Time must become our common weapon.

NADWORNY: Now, there have been many announcements in the last week or so of a lot more weapons coming to Ukraine. More than 10 European countries announced new military aid. The U.S. has a new $2.5 billion package which includes armored vehicles, ammunition and air defense systems.

MARTIN: So I would like to hear more about that. Like, what is the state of the fighting? And tell us a little bit more about why Zelenskyy thinks these new weapons are so crucial.

NADWORNY: Well, according to Britain's defense ministry, the war overall is, quote, "in a state of deadlock." There is still heavy fighting happening in the Donbas, where Russia has been making small gains. That's around Bakhmut, which is the city with good highway access. That's why the Russians want it. Military analysts expect offensives from both sides this spring, so the wave of weapons to Ukraine is really in preparation for that. And, you know, tanks are going to be really important in that if Ukraine wants to push through Russian defenses, they're going to need a lot of tanks to do that.

MARTIN: So I want to go back to one of the stories that you've been covering. That's that Russian missile attack last week on an apartment complex in the city of Dnipro. Could you tell us a bit more about that?

NADWORNY: Yeah. On Thursday, officials raised the number of people confirmed dead to 46. So it's one of the deadliest single attacks against civilians since the war began. Funerals for those victims, which include a 15-year-old girl and a 1-year-old baby, are ongoing.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Vocalizing).

NADWORNY: I was with mourners this week as they gathered for the burial of Mykhailo Korenovsky. And he was a beloved boxing coach. Hundreds of people came to pay their respects. Some young men who he trained brought boxing gloves to leave at his gravesite. The missile attack in Dnipro came on a day with dozens of missile strikes. Most targets were the power grid infrastructure. That's been the pattern the past few months, knocking power out for millions of people here.

MARTIN: And I want to hear more about that. You just said that Russia's been attacking power plants for months now. How is the grid doing, and how are people living?

NADWORNY: Well, across the country, there are planned power outages every day. When it's colder - like now, it's hovering around freezing - there can be even more unexpected outages. So in a place like Kharkiv, which is the second-largest city in Ukraine, when the power is out, everything is dark. Street lights are out. It's a really surreal experience. But people adjust. You know, they keep bottled water. They empty their fridges. Gas stoves and heating will often still work when the power is out. We spent the day with a family in Kharkiv. When we visited, the power went on at 10 a.m.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: (Non-English language spoken).

NADWORNY: So they boil their water at 9:30 a.m. They set an alarm to do it. They put it in thermoses. They keep power banks charged. They live on the 10th floor, so they're getting a lot of exercise.

NATALIA KUZMINA: (Non-English language spoken, laughter).

NADWORNY: That's mom Natalia Kuzmina telling me they have flashlights in every pocket. You know, they just adjust. But, of course, no power means no online school for her daughter Sofia (ph), who's 6. And it makes working really difficult. So in a lot of ways, it's just really hard for life to go on here.

MARTIN: That is NPR's Elissa Nadworny in Kyiv. Elissa, thanks so much for sharing this reporting with us.

NADWORNY: Thanks, Michel.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) 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.