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There are signals that the Kremlin's objectives in Ukraine may be changing

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

After a month of fighting, Ukrainian officials suggest that Russia may be redefining its goals. The head of Ukrainian intelligence says Russia is hoping to split the country in two, leaving the west to Ukraine and the eastern provinces to Russia. Russian and Ukrainian officials restart talks today. In a moment, we're going to speak with the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Democratic Senator Jack Reed. But first, NPR's Elissa Nadworny is in Lviv, Ukraine.

ELISSA NADWORNY, BYLINE: So the head of the Ukrainian military intelligence said this new strategy is basically splitting Ukraine in two. You know, they called it, quote, "a Korean scenario" by creating a separate political entity in the Russian-occupied regions in the east. But Ukrainian officials are pushing for more negotiations with Russia, including over this disputed territory.

MARTIN: And the argument there being that there are - there's a significant Russian population in the east...

NADWORNY: Exactly.

MARTIN: ...And that Russia would seek some kind of referendum to take those regions into their own control. Can you tell us, what is the state of the war at this point?

NADWORNY: Yeah. Well, the Russian assault on Kyiv, at least for now, seems to be on hold. But they are still hitting the cities, like Mariupol in the south and Chernihiv in the north, really hard. I mean, both places have been bombarded in the first month of fighting.

MARTIN: We saw over the weekend, though, an attack in the west, which has really been a safe haven for the Ukrainian diplomats, foreign diplomats, journalists.

NADWORNY: That's right.

MARTIN: And this seemed to breach that security.

NADWORNY: That's right. You know, they hit several strategic locations in the west, mainly a number of fuel storage facilities, a military repair facility. Those are places in Lviv, where it's been relatively safe. The missile strikes also happened as President Biden was just across the border in Poland. And the Lviv mayor actually called it a hello to Biden. So that's kind of going on in the background of the shift of strategy.

MARTIN: I want to ask about the repercussions from President Biden's speech that he gave in Warsaw when he uttered these - this phrase wasn't in the prepared remarks, but he essentially said that Vladimir Putin needed to go. What's been the reaction to that?

NADWORNY: Well, you know, most Ukrainians are actually more focused on the substance of his speech. They're actually a little disappointed. They want a no-fly zone to close the air so that the Russian military can't bomb. You know, after that speech, the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, appealed to Western leaders again for more help. He wants better, more sophisticated antiaircraft systems.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY: (Speaking Ukrainian).

NADWORNY: Here he is saying, you know, "you can't shoot down missiles with machine guns." Zelenskyy has long pleaded for a no-fly zone. That's not really a - that's a no-go area for NATO, you know, because, in part, they don't know what the response will be like from a nuclear-armed Russia.

MARTIN: Meanwhile, it's just a humanitarian disaster there. The numbers coming out of the U.N. are staggering. Upwards of 3 million people now have been forced to flee, 10 million displaced from their homes. Is that right?

NADWORNY: That's right. You know, Ukrainian officials are working to establish more evacuation routes, with some success over the weekend from places like Mariupol.

Alina Beskrovna recently fled to Mariupol, where she was trapped there for weeks. She spoke to my colleague Debbie Elliott.

ALINA BESKROVNA: We would haul water from a well about three miles away. We would cook on open fires under very heavy shelling. We stayed in the most inner part of the basement just hoping to survive.

NADWORNY: She says there were 36 people down in the basement, 12 kids. They ate lunch by flashlight. She says her hands are scratched and burned from cooking over that open fire. She's here now in Lviv, but she's looking to leave Ukraine soon.

MARTIN: All right. NPR's Elissa Nadworny reporting from Lviv. Thank you so much.

NADWORNY: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rachel Martin is a host of Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
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.