Ukrainian forces are trying to push Russian forces back from Kharkiv, a city that Russia has bombed since the start of the war.
AILSA CHANG, HOST:
In northeastern Ukraine, Ukrainian troops are trying to push back Russian forces from the city of Kharkiv. Russia has bombed this city relentlessly since the first days of the war. But in recent days, the Ukrainians have pushed Russian troops back, to the point where most of their incoming artillery can only reach the northern limits of the city.
NPR’s Jason Beaubien is in Kharkiv and joining us now. Hi Jason.
JASON BEAUBIEN, BYLINE: Hi, Ailsa.
CHANG: So can you describe what Kharkiv is like now, given the recent advances by the Ukrainians near there?
BEAUBIEN: You know, to be honest, things are still pretty quiet on the streets of central Kharkiv. There is not much traffic. Most businesses remain closed. But these military advances are quite new. And here in the city, you can hear the continuous exchange of mortar fire between the two sides. There’s like this thunder that echoes and rumbles in the distance.
I was talking with the medical director of a public hospital on the north side of our Kharkiv, Olena Poleschuk. And she said that last week, after these Ukrainian forces managed to take control of a particular village north of the city, everything changed.
OLENA POLESHUK: (Via interpreter) Before, every night you go to sleep, you can hear bang, bang, bang. And you understand that it is very close to my house. Now, we can hear a rumble, but it’s in the distance. So the difference that we experience here is huge, huge.
BEAUBIEN: And significantly, she says that her hospital, which only treats civilians, has gone from having dozens of people a day coming in with shrapnel wounds from the bombing to now only one or two a day.
CHANG: Well, what else do you hear from other residents? Do you feel that this is permanent, that the Russian threat to the city is almost over?
BEAUBIEN: Some yes and some no. You know, from the northern tip of Kharkiv, it’s just over 10 miles to the Russian border. So even if the Ukrainians force them back, people here tell me there is a constant fear that Russia could withdraw, regroup, cross the border and attack the city again. Even with these recent Ukrainian military successes, the metro stations here in Kharkiv are still full of people living underground because their houses were destroyed or they are still too afraid to leave.
CHANG: Well, I understand that you were able to go to some of those areas that had been bombed for weeks. What did you see there?
BEAUBIEN: Yes. Today we were able to go to one of the northern suburbs, Saltivka. It was hit by Russian bombing. And parts of that neighborhood resemble the images you see outside of Mariupol. It has row after row of these old soviet style apartment blocks that have been completely destroyed. Ten-story apartment buildings, each with about 150 stories, are bombed. They are burned. The front facades of some of them have collapsed. And now they are totally uninhabitable.
CHANG: Well, after all this bombardment, can people in the city access enough food and basic supplies that they need?
BEAUBIEN: Surprisingly, some grocery stores are open. Others are reopening. They have food on the shelves. But the problem is that it is extremely expensive. People tell me that basic supplies like rice and cooking oil are twice what they were before the invasion. And you have to understand, most people haven’t been working. Businesses, as I mentioned, have been closed. People have been sheltering for weeks in basements, so they have no money.
I went to a food distribution at a bus station this morning. And there were hundreds and hundreds of people who had come before dawn, hoping to get a fairly small box of food with some pasta, some coffee, a couple of jars of cooked meat in it. And I met a woman, Pahomova Valentina, 74 years old. She is from a neighborhood, that same neighborhood, Saltivka, that I described earlier.
PAHOMOVA VALENTINA: (Through an interpreter) I am originally from Kharkiv, but my house is in the north of Saltivka, so it is absolutely destroyed. There is no family left, there is nothing left there. So I’m alone here.
BEAUBIEN: And she was crying as she said she was desperate for this war to end, saying she just couldn’t take it anymore.
CHANG: That’s Jason Beaubien from NPR in Kharkiv. Thank you very much, Jason.
BEAUBIEN: You’re welcome.
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