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Story Publication logo March 16, 2022

Zelensky Implores Congress To Increase Aid as ‘Scenes of Horror’ Continue Across Ukraine


Ukraine refugees flee to Hungary

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As President Zelensky addressed Congress Wednesday and asked for more aid President Biden called Vladimir Putin a "war criminal" for the assault on Ukraine. This as civilians continue to bear the brunt of the fighting, especially in Ukraine's south. Now entering its fourth week the war shows little sign of letting up despite negotiations between Ukraine and Russia. Jane Ferguson reports from Kyiv.

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Judy Woodruff: "I think he is a war criminal," those were the words of President Biden today referring to Vladimir Putin and his campaign in Ukraine.

Civilians still bear the brunt of the fighting, especially in Ukraine's south. Now entering its fourth week, the war shows little sign of letting up, despite negotiations between Ukraine and Russia.

A daytime curfew is now in effect in Kyiv, leaving streets emptied, as the sounds of Russian shelling can be heard echoing from the city's outskirts.

Jane Ferguson is in the capital city, and she begins our coverage again tonight.

Jane Ferguson: In Ukraine's capital today, firefighters battled to put out a blaze after yet another brutal strike. Civilians and their homes continue to be Russia's targets of choice, the top floor of this residential building completely gutted.

Emergency workers frantically try to evacuate or comfort anyone alive. But there is no consolation. Residents look up as billows of smoke rise over their homes, now rubble. Nearby buildings were also not spared.

Natalya, who lives close to the explosion site, shows the remains inside her destroyed apartment.

Natalya, Kyiv Resident (through translator): Thank God. We are lucky that we are alive and not injured. We had taped the windows, but the blast blew it anyway.

Jane Ferguson: Hundreds of miles to the south, the port city of Mariupol continues to suffer some of the fiercest fighting. This hospital, one of the few remaining to take in injured patients, is dealing with the slaughter of civilians. Its basement used to be a food storage area, now turned into a morgue. Dead bodies lay waiting to be picked up.

Dr. Valeriy Drengar, Physician (through translator): Because all the other hospitals were bombed, and none could collect them, there's no emergency services. There's nobody.

Jane Ferguson: And the greatest loss of all, that of life barely begun. This baby was 22 days old.

To stop the war, President Zelenskyy today urged the West to do more. Speaking to a packed auditorium of congressional members this morning…

Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Ukrainian President (through translator): Is this a lot to ask, to create a no-fly zone over Ukraine to save people? Is this too much to ask, a humanitarian no-fly zone, so that Russia would not be able to terrorize our free cities?

Jane Ferguson: Several hours later, President Biden announced an additional $800 million of assistance to the embattled nation. The package includes anti-aircraft systems and small, but lethal drones.

President Joe Biden: This could be a long and difficult battle, but the American people will be steadfast in our support of the people of Ukraine.

Jane Ferguson: Meanwhile, there are cautious hopes of a potential breakthrough in talks between Moscow and Kyiv. Today, both sides made progress on a peace deal that would include a cease-fire, if Ukraine promises neutrality and abandons its NATO ambitions.

But Russian President Vladimir Putin showed little sign of compromise.

Vladimir Putin, Russian President (through translator): All our goals will be achieved. We will provide security for Russia and our people, and we will never allow Ukraine to serve as a base for acts of aggression against our country.

Jane Ferguson: And he had a chilling message for those within Russia who oppose the war and look to the West for progress.

Vladimir Putin: The Russian people will always be able to distinguish true patriots from scum and traitors, and simply spit them out like a fly that accidentally flew into the mouth, spit them out. I am convinced that such a natural and necessary cleansing of society will only strengthen our country.

Jane Ferguson: A senior U.S. defense official said today, Russian forces remain mostly stalled. But, today, for the first time, Russian warships launched missiles near the key port of Odessa.

In the north, Russian soldiers continue to operate to northwest and northeast of Kyiv.

Judy Woodruff: We return to the war in Ukraine now and to that nation's capital, Kyiv.

Our Jane Ferguson is there and she joins me now.

So, Jane, tell us where things stand from where you are.

Jane Ferguson: Right now, in Kyiv, we have been hearing more explosions throughout the day, and those are on the perimeter, particularly to the north of the city, where Russian positions are still continuing to bombard the city with artillery fire.

Now, we're actually in the middle of a long 36-hour lockdown here, because the authorities, the mayor of Kyiv said nobody could go out from Tuesday night through today as well.

There was a fear that this is a particularly tense moment in this war as it goes forward. And, of course, there's a duality to that, because, as we heard in the earlier report there, Judy, there are some potentially positive signs that there could be a peace deal, or at least a cease-fire on the horizon.

But as is often the case with these things, you not only get intensive negotiations that may be making some progress. At the same time, you have fighting. All across the city, we have had — all across this country, we have had scenes of horror, whether or not it's Mariupol in the south or here in Kyiv or in other cities like Kharkiv on the east of this country.

The bombardment continues. It's worth pointing out that Russian forces here in the north just outside this city have not been able to move forward in any significant way. So they are continuing to rely on artillery and airstrikes across the country to try to edge forward, while those peace talks happen.

Judy Woodruff: And, Jane, what are thought to be Vladimir Putin's options if a peace deal does not come together?

Jane Ferguson: The reality is, Judy, despite the incredibly strong words, his remarkable words today, when he gave that televised speech, his options are dwindling.

Now, we know that there has been a little bit of movement in those peace talks. Officials here in Kyiv have told us at the "NewsHour" that the tone from the Russians has markedly changed. And now we know also that, of course, Zelenskyy today in an impassioned speech called for that no-fly zone.

In reality, it's very unlikely that he's going to get that. The no-fly zone is effectively NATO or the United States potentially in a hot war with Russia. However, the other weaponry that is being sent in, the defense systems, those are working incredibly well.

The handheld missiles that the Ukrainian forces are using to take out tanks and aircraft like helicopters are working. That massively reduces Putin's options. We also know from senior officials at the Department of Defense that the Russians need to resupply. They did not plan to be moving so slowly in this country. They didn't plan to be stuck, to be bogged down, to be using artillery fire to try to get inside these cities.

And yet the Department of Defense officials have also been saying that they haven't seen any movement to resupply. So, it's not clear if Putin is really going to try to push forward and is really going to try to take these cities with plan B, effectively, to pummel them with artillery before coming in, in which case, does he — would he even have enough troops to occupy these cities, never mind take them?

And so what we know is that, here in Kyiv, just a couple of miles from where we are standing, the Russian troops are still there, waiting and trying to push forward and enter the city, which is why the capital's volunteers continue to pour into the war effort.

They look like trained killers, but, three weeks ago, they were living regular lives, one a barista, another an I.T. manager, all in their 20s, all holding a gun for the first time.

In this crumbling industrial site in Kyiv, they train to catch sleeper cells of Russians in the city, how to repel an attack on a vehicle, how to protect government officials, and how to face an enemy without hesitation. The Russian invasion sparked calls for Ukrainian civilians to join the fight to defend the country. Over 100,000 responded to that call.

Three weeks ago, what were you doing?

Clahus, Volunteer Soldier: I was living my normal life. In normal life, I'm a director of greenhouse near to Kyiv. I'm growing a flower. I am a flower maker.

Jane Ferguson: You're a florist?

Clahus: Yes, flower maker.

Jane Ferguson: Flower grower?

Clahus: Yes, yes, in normal life.

But, today I'm a warrior and defend my country from Russian enemies.

Jane Ferguson: This 25-year-old goes by the nickname Clahus. You went from being a flower grower to a soldier.

Clahus: Yes. Yes.

Jane Ferguson: Your mom went from being the mother of a flower grower to the mother of a soldier.

Clahus: Yes, my mother — yes, my mother, surely, she prefers that I am a flower maker. But my mother, in Kyiv, she is a volunteer. She is helping people.

Jane Ferguson: Your mother stayed?

Clahus: Yes, yes, because she is a local from Kyiv too.

Jane Ferguson: How does she feel about your job?

Clahus: She is scared, of course, every day, call me, tell, how are you and everything OK?

Jane Ferguson: He's part of a younger generation of educated, Western-leaning Ukrainians, who see the future of their country as democratic.

Clahus: Ukraine last years before grow — take right course, to Europe, to independence, to freedom, to normal life.

I'm living in Poland five year. I am studying in Poland. And I have a lot of travels here in the world, so I see world. I know how it must be, not like in Russia.

Jane Ferguson: Their trainer, the only one here who was in the army before the war, has trained dozens of inexperienced men in just three weeks since this war began.

Can you tell me what it's like to train a whole generation of young men who didn't plan to be soldiers? How do they take to this kind of work?

Knyaz, Ukrainian Officer (through translator): All of the guys are highly motivated, and they learn very fast. Some of them have had certain skills back from their civilian life.

I think some of the Ukrainian civilians with three weeks of training are better prepared than the regular Russian army soldiers. We see this all across Ukraine these days.

Jane Ferguson: Part of that edge over Russian soldiers is that these young men are fighting to defend their homes. Resolve here goes a long way to make up for inexperience.

Patrolling the streets of Kyiv at night, they are reminded they have much more to lose.

So, you come from this neighborhood. You grew up here?

Drow, Volunteer Driver: Yes, I grew up here.

Jane Ferguson: So you know it?

Drow: Yes, I know the street as my fingers of right hand.

Jane Ferguson: Do you still have family in this area?

Drow: No. My family now in Europe, and I stay here to protect my city.

Jane Ferguson: So this is personal?

Drow: Yes, of course.

Jane Ferguson: The mayor of Kyiv announced a 36-hour curfew starting on Tuesday evening. The volunteers scour for anyone on the streets after lockdown.

As the capital, Kyiv, goes into an extended lockdown, there is a sense that things in the city are more tense than they have ever been. And yet there is an opportunity here for peace. While politicians push for more talking, it's troops like this out on the street that worry that there could be spoilers here as well.

Officials fear Russian-backed cells could be preparing to destabilize the city from within, as the Russian military remains stalled on the capital's outskirts.

We stop at a checkpoint on one of the city's main highways, this one entirely manned by volunteers from the neighborhood. These men say they are keeping watch for the Russian invasion and will call others from the neighborhood if they try to enter.

Mykhalio, Checkpoint Volunteer (through translator): We have to defend the country. We are defending it with bare hands. This is all that we have. We are not territorial defense. We are not military. We are self-defense. We gather together 10 to 20 men, and we defend the neighborhood.

Jane Ferguson: Waiting together in the frigid cold, the sound of Russian shells landing is never far away.

Mykhalio (through translator): I was a security guard before the war, and when this happened, I just couldn't sit at home doing nothing. I'm from Western Ukraine, but I was living here in Kyiv, and I decided to stay here and will stay here until the end of the war. We must win this war.

Judy Woodruff: That reporting from Jane Ferguson.

The "NewsHour"'s reporting on Ukraine is supported in partnership with the Pulitzer Center.


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