News brief: NYC subway shooting, Kharkiv under attack, Russia's military strategy
LEILA FADEL, HOST:
In New York City, police identified a person of interest in Tuesday's subway shooting that left 29 people injured.
A MARTINEZ, HOST:
They've also released more details about the chaotic scene and what they found at the station - a gun, fireworks and fuses. Ten people were shot, and others were treated for smoke inhalation - other injuries.
FADEL: Caroline Lewis is a reporter with member station WNYC, and she joins us now. Hi, Caroline.
CAROLINE LEWIS, BYLINE: Hi.
FADEL: So, Caroline, let's start with this person of interest. What do we know about the man the police are looking for?
LEWIS: Right. So his name is Frank R. James. He's a 62-year-old man with addresses in Wisconsin and Philadelphia. And police said they found a key at the subway station to a U-Haul van and records showing that he rented the van in Philadelphia. They were careful last night not to call him a suspect, but they definitely want to talk to him.
FADEL: Police also talked about how the shooting unfolded. What were they able to put together from video and witnesses on the scene?
LEWIS: So all of this took place during rush hour, as the train was pulling into a station in Sunset Park in Brooklyn. Apparently, a man wearing a neon construction vest and hat and a gas mask opened up two smoke grenades, and then police say he pulled out a gun and started shooting - 33 shots in all. There's footage that shows smoke pouring out of the train as soon as the doors opened, when it entered the station, and people were rushing onto the platform. People were screaming. CNN spoke to a survivor of the attack, Hourari Benkada, who was helping a pregnant woman when he was shot in the leg.
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HOURARI BENKADA: And all you see, like, is smoke, black smoke, bomb going off, and then people bumrushing to the back. This pregnant woman was in front of me. I was trying to help her. I didn't know there were shots at first. I just thought it was a black smoke bomb. She said, I'm pregnant with a baby. I hugged her. And then the bumrush continued. I got pushed, and that's when I got shot in the back of my knee.
LEWIS: There was clearly a lot of confusion. Police said the items they later recovered at the station included two empty gas canisters, a hatchet, gasoline and a 9 mm semi-automatic Glock. They say they don't have a motive so far.
FADEL: Terrifying - it must have been terrifying for people. What do we know at this point about the victims?
LEWIS: So this has been developing, but hospitals identified at least 29 people who were treated for injuries. Officials said last night that there were 10 people who were wounded by the gunfire and others who were injured either by smoke inhalation or just in the rush to get out of the station. And five of the victims were listed in critical but stable condition. Officials who spoke last night said it could have been much worse, and I think they were grateful that all the victims are expected to recover.
FADEL: What's the mood like in the city right now, especially for those who depend on the trains to get around?
LEWIS: So there has been this increase in crime recently and subway crime specifically. So I think some people were already a little on edge, and this didn't help. I talked to some people who lived near the station who said they had near-misses with this incident yesterday that left them really rattled. Some people said they're nervous about taking the train now but don't really have a choice because it's the most affordable option. You know, for those with a car or the means to take a Lyft or Uber, it might be a different story.
FADEL: In the few seconds we have left, what's the city doing about crime on the subway?
LEWIS: Well, the mayor has been talking about ramping up police presence in the subways. But if you've ever been to New York City, you know the police are already pretty ubiquitous. So I think people are divided about whether this increased presence would actually help.
FADEL: That's reporter Caroline Lewis with member station WNYC. Caroline, thank you for your reporting.
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FADEL: Almost 50 days after the beginning of Russia's war in Ukraine, the country's second-biggest city, Kharkiv, is still under artillery and air attack.
MARTINEZ: And Russia appears to be regrouping and concentrating its forces in the east of the country, with a major Russian offensive widely anticipated. Also, President Biden is accusing Russian President Vladimir Putin of genocide.
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PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Yes, I called it genocide because it's become clearer and clearer that Putin is just trying to wipe out the idea of even being able to be a Ukrainian.
MARTINEZ: That is a term that U.S. officials have avoided using until now, and the president says evidence is mounting.
FADEL: We'll hear more about Russia's intentions on the ground and Putin's plan in a few minutes. But first to NPR's Eyder Peralta in Kharkiv. Hi, Eyder.
EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: Hey, Leila.
FADEL: So, Eyder, tell us what you're seeing in Kharkiv.
PERALTA: This is a big city, and before the war, it had a population of 1.4 million, but now it is desolate. At night, the entire city goes dark, and that's when the heaviest fighting happens. We're staying in the center of town, at a fairly safe distance from artillery fire, but at night - and all night - we can see flashes of the explosions in the distance. Imagine a thunderstorm building on the outskirts of the city, and that's what it's like. We hear the rumble of artillery fire, and every once in a while, when there's a big one, you can feel the shaking under your feet. Yesterday, we made our way to Saltivka, one of the northern suburbs here, and we saw residential buildings with big holes in them, power lines in the middle of the street, a whole market burnt down, homes turned into rubble. It was sheer devastation.
FADEL: And it's not over for these residents, and you've been talking to them. What are they saying?
PERALTA: I - a lot of them are scared. In this northern suburb, we met Marina Vorontsova. And when we arrived, she quickly pulled us into the lobby of her apartment building, where we could talk and where we could be safe in case of an airstrike. And the night before, the building next door took a direct hit, and Marina looked shell-shocked. Let's listen to a bit of our conversation.
MARINA VORONTSOVA: (Through interpreter) It is shaking. It's, like, trembling. Yesterday it was trembling. Our building was trembling really bad 'cause there was a 16-story building across, and it was a direct hit there.
PERALTA: And she says yesterday was terrifying. I asked her if the reason she didn't leave was because of her elderly mother.
VORONTSOVA: (Through interpreter) No, no, I can move her. It's not a problem. And she actually wants to move, but there's other people that we need to stay there for. And also, as I say, it's two dogs we have. So we're staying mostly for them.
PERALTA: So she doesn't want to leave because she wants to keep helping. But this constant shelling is taking a toll. It's scary. At the main train station here, I talked to people who say they have stayed as long as they could, but now it's just gotten too scary, so they're leaving.
FADEL: So let's zoom out a bit. Are people talking about what happens next, where this war goes from here?
PERALTA: Yeah, I don't think anyone has an answer to that. Russian President Vladimir Putin gave a speech yesterday in which he said that Russia would continue fighting this war. And the U.S., the U.K. and Ukraine say that in the near future, Russian troops will begin another offensive in the east. But what happens next is the hardest question for everyone here because that's all they know - that at some point there will be a big, new Russian offensive.
FADEL: NPR's Eyder Peralta reporting from Kharkiv in eastern Ukraine. Thank you, Eyder. And stay safe.
PERALTA: Thank you, Leila.
FADEL: Satellite images show Russian troops are massing on eastern Ukraine.
MARTINEZ: It appears a massive offensive is on the horizon, and this new stage of the war could differ in many ways from the past seven weeks of Russian assaults on Ukraine.
FADEL: To explain why, we've got NPR national security correspondent Greg Myre with us. Hi, Greg.
GREG MYRE, BYLINE: Hi, Leila.
FADEL: So assuming Russia launches this big offensive in the east, how will it differ from what we've seen so far?
MYRE: Well, as we just heard, Putin made clear in his remarks yesterday that he is going to press on with the war. But it's also important to note that he's scaled back his military aims, at least for now. When Russia invaded back on February 24, it was from three separate directions - the north, the east and the south - with a clear goal of sweeping to victory throughout Ukraine. But Putin had to cut his losses in the north, withdrawing all the Russian troops near the capital, Kyiv. Still lots of heavy fighting in the south. But Putin is stressing that the east of Ukraine will be the focus, and it's also the place where conditions do appear to be most favorable for the Russians.
FADEL: Most favorable for the Russians - why most favorable?
MYRE: Well, let's start with the terrain. In northern Ukraine, it was well-suited for these small Ukrainian units to ambush columns of Russian tanks. The rural areas there had lots of woods, good cover for hit-and-run attacks. And the urban areas also lend themselves to these guerrilla-style attacks. So these were good places for the outgunned Ukrainians to fight. Eastern Ukraine is different. It has lots of farmland, wheat fields and corn fields, lots of wide-open spaces. The Ukrainians will find it much harder to sneak up on the Russians. The battlefields will be more suited to Russia's hulking armored vehicles and big artillery guns.
FADEL: Speaking of weapons, I mean, the theme among Ukrainian officials has been to ask for more weapons. Do they have what they need now to match the Russians?
MYRE: Well, Ukraine is getting a lot of weapons, but they're still mostly smaller ones - rifles, machine guns, shoulder-fired missiles. But Ukraine's persistent pleas for larger weapons have changed the conversation. There are signs that the Biden administration, as well as some other NATO members, may be close to giving a - new weapons packages that would include some larger systems like armored vehicles. Now, the Ukrainians are certainly going to need these in a hurry if they plan to match up with the Russians when it comes to sort of head-on battles in the east.
FADEL: What about morale, something the Russian army appears to be struggling with, while Ukraine - fighting for its homeland against invaders - seems to have high morale?
MYRE: Well, true, I think Ukraine really does have the momentum and higher morale. It has the international support. It's winning the information war. Ukrainians have seen their cities and towns destroyed. They know they're fighting for the survival of the country. In contrast, the Russians have been forced to retreat and regroup. Their goals are still fuzzy. Does Putin just want eastern Ukraine? Does he still dream of taking the capital and installing a new government? Many Russian troops would be hard-pressed to explain exactly what they are fighting for.
FADEL: NPR's Greg Myre. Thank you, Greg.
MYRE: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.