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Story Publication logo April 5, 2022

As Russian Forces Redeploy, Intense Fighting Shifts to Ukraine’s South

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As Russian forces redeploy to Ukraine's east and south, pitched battles are being fought near the city of Zaporizhzhia, which has become a refuge for Ukrainians escaping the horrors of Russian attacks on Mariupol and other southern cities. Special correspondent Volodymyr Solohub reports from a town on the frontlines 50 miles outside Zaporizhzhia.


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Judy Woodruff: As Russian forces redeploy to Ukraine's east and south, pitched battles are being fought near the city of Zaporizhzhia, which has become a refuge for Ukrainians escaping the horrors of Russian attacks on Mariupol and other southern cities. Special correspondent Volodymyr Solohub reports from a town on the front lines 50 miles south of Zaporizhzhia.

Volodymyr Solohub: The evidence of war is scattered along the road leading to Novoselivka. And it left marks on 41-year-old Vasyl Cherkaschenko's home.

Vasyl Cherkaschenko, Novoselivka Resident (through translator): They shoot here. It's all flying over there. At night, it's flying all over.

Volodymyr Solohub: Cherkaschenko lives on the outskirts of Novoselivka, with his wife and his mother. A few weeks ago, Russian troops went through his village. Out of 400 residents before the war, only about 20 remain. I ask him why he stayed.

Vasyl Cherkaschenko (through translator): What do you mean why? I built all of this with these hands. You think, if I flee somewhere, I will be safe? If I go to Zaporizhzhia, you think the war won't get me there and Kyiv? It's all the same. Where should I go?

Volodymyr Solohub: Every night, they go to their basement. This is where they sleep.

Vasyl Cherkaschenko (through translator): Come on in.

Volodymyr Solohub: The cellar is tiny and cold. They have been sleeping here for a month. The Russian MREs serve as a reminder of Russian troops' fast withdrawal. And holes in the cellar's fence serve as a reminder that they didn't go far. Some 20 miles to the south, Ukrainian soldiers spend their days in the trenches on the front line to defend Zaporizhzhia. Soldiers tell us to move fast and stay low because we're in the range over the Russia snipers. We're on the front line positions to the south of Zaporizhzhia. This road goes all the way to Crimea. And ever since the beginning of the war, it has been a lifeline for those fleeing the fighting, a lifeline that has been cut. Now Ukrainian troops are guarding this position to prevent any further Russian advance. Our military escort, call sign Historian, says they will do everything to ensure the Russians are stopped here.

"Historian", Armed Forces of Ukraine (through translator): It's a cruel, treasonous war of destruction of our peaceful cities and villages and of our people. I will never forgive them, never in my life. I can only forgive them when a mother will forgive the murder of her child. And this will never happen.

Volodymyr Solohub: Back in Zaporizhzhia, the battle for survival on yet another front. This military hospital takes in both wounded soldiers and civilians, but they don't keep them here for too long.

Lt. Col. Viktor Pysanko, Zaporizhzhia Military Hospital Chief: We collect them. We provide the stabilization, we provide the surgery operation, and then send you to the civilian sector. For example, arms and eyes go to one place. Injury of the head go into another one place. And amputation, for example, go to the civilian territory, because there is a long period of the rehabilitation and return to the normal life. Also, we provide medical care for the kids with regard to the injury in the Ukraine-Russian war.

Volodymyr Solohub: Lieutenant Colonel Viktor Pysanko became chief of Zaporizhzhia's military hospital just a few weeks before the war started. He's an experienced combat medic. He served in the NATO mission in Kosovo and the U.N. mission in Congo. He's only 35 and is bringing millennial ideas to this Soviet era hospital.

Lt. Col. Viktor Pysanko: Yes, we already got the opportunity to provide the medical consultation online. We will make this project in the surgery room. We put several cameras. We put audio, supply for this, and we tried to make an online consultation for the injured soldiers. We put the camera in the corner of the surgery room. It's give opportunity to verify the disposition, the patient disposition on the surgery.

Volodymyr Solohub: While Dr. Pysanko is bringing telemedicine to a war zone, that war zone continues to come to him every day. For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Volodymyr Solohub in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine.

Judy Woodruff: And a reminder that our reporting on the war in Ukraine is supported in partnership with the Pulitzer Center.

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