Russia shifts focus to Ukraine’s south amid stiff resistance

President Biden said Thursday there was "no clear evidence" that the Russians were scaling back their military operations around the Ukrainian capital, despite that assertion from Moscow earlier this week. The U.S. has seen some redeployments of Russian troops, but not in sizable numbers. Meanwhile the Russian attacks and Ukrainian resistance grind on. Jack Hewson reports from Kharkiv.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    President Biden said today there was no clear evidence that the Russians were scaling back their military operations around the Ukrainian capital, despite that assertion from Moscow earlier this week.

    The U.S. has seen some redeployments of Russian troops, but not in sizable numbers.

    Meantime, the Russian attacks and Ukrainian resistance grind on, most fiercely in the east and southeast of Ukraine. The International Committee of the Red Cross said that it had secured an agreement to evacuate civilians from besieged Mariupol, but those plans have been blown away by Russian shells in the past.

    Tonight, we start well north of there in Ukraine's second city, Kharkiv.

    Special correspondent Jack Hewson again begins our coverage.

  • Jack Hewson:

    A once residential area in northeastern Kharkiv now a ghost town. The horror continues, even as Russia pledged to stop the attacks. Today, another Russian missile hit a pipeline, cutting the gas supply to thousands of residents. The strike triggered a massive fire that burned dozens of local shops.

  • Vera, Kharkiv Resident (through translator):

    Our apartment block was hit by three missiles. People were left without entry doors. Where are we supposed to live? Look at us. Look at my clothes. That's how we live.

  • Jack Hewson:

    Elsewhere in the north, Russian troops are now pulling out of the Chernobyl nuclear plant, the site of the world's worst nuclear disaster. The Russians seized the facility in the early days of the invasion.

    Today, Ukraine's nuclear operator reported Russian soldiers were exposed to significant doses of radiation from digging trenches around the highly contaminated site.

    Ukraine said those troops are now moving toward the Belarus border, where the U.S. expects Russia to resupply and redeploy them elsewhere in Ukraine. The Ukrainians are not letting up their defense. This week, they recaptured towns and villages near Kyiv, where dead Russian soldiers now lay, Ukrainian fighters eager to take away any Russian weapons left behind.

  • Aleksander, Paramedic (through translator):

    We will win, and we will be victorious because we are on our land. And that is a huge advantage we have over the enemy.

  • Jack Hewson:

    As Russian forces struggle, today, President Putin authorized drafting conscripts into the army. He said it had nothing to do with Ukraine. But the issue of conscription has been contentious in the war.

    Earlier this month Mr. Putin claimed all soldiers were — quote — "professional." But Russia's chief defense spokesman said that was not the case.

    Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov, Russian Ministry of Defense (through translator): Unfortunately, we have discovered several facts of the presence of conscripts in units taking part in the special military operation in Ukraine.

  • Jack Hewson:

    U.S. officials say Russia continues to reposition its troops away from the capital. But despite promises of de-escalation, Russia intensified its offensive in the southeast, as it focuses on the Donbass region.

    In the north, heavy shelling continues to hit Kyiv, Chernihiv and Kharkiv. There was a renewed onslaught of Russian artillery hitting the northeast of Kharkiv today; 380 impacts were recorded. According to firefighters we spoke to, this was the heaviest week they had observed since the beginning of March.

    So, so contrary to Russian claims of reduced military activities in Kharkiv, in fact, it appears that the bombardment is actually getting worse.

    Farther south, in Mariupol, Russia promised a one-day cease-fire, but Ukraine said a new humanitarian convoy headed to evacuate trapped civilians was stopped at a Russian checkpoint.

    In Washington today, President Biden said he's seen no sign of Moscow scaling back its offensive.

  • President Joe Biden:

    Depending on your view of Putin, I'm a little skeptical. It's an open question whether he's actually pulling back and going to say, I'm just going to focus on the Donbass and I'm not worried about the rest of the country.

  • Jack Hewson:

    Meanwhile, in Berlin, a Ukrainian delegation met with Germany's economy minister, as the country is trying to reduce its dependency on Russian energy. Putin threatened to halt gas exports if they're not paid for in rubles, beginning tomorrow.

  • Vladimir Putin, Russian President (through translator):

    Today, I signed a decree that establishes the rules for trading Russian natural gas with the so-called unfriendly states.

    In order to purchase Russian natural gas, they must open ruble accounts in Russian banks.

  • Jack Hewson:

    Earlier this week, Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, insisted Russia will cut off all gas supplies if countries don't adhere to the new rules.

    And as peace talks are expected to resume tomorrow, in another address to his nation last night, Ukraine's leader said the suffering was expected to grind on.

  • Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Ukrainian President (through translator):

    These are only words, so far, no specifics. There is a real situation on the battlefield. And we will fight for every meter of our land for every person.

  • Jack Hewson:

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Jack Hewson in Kharkiv, Ukraine.

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