Russian forces escalate attacks on Ukraine’s cities, trapping civilians in dire conditions

Talks between Russia and Ukraine produced no results Thursday, as outrage grows over Russia's bombing of a maternity hospital in Mariupol. As the death toll rises among civilians pinned down by relentless attacks, Russian forces are slowly advancing on multiple cities and Ukrainian officials estimate damage from the war has reached $100 billion in two weeks of war. Nick Schifrin reports.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    It is a day of stalled diplomacy and more deadly fighting in Ukraine.

    Talks in Turkey between Russia and Ukraine produced no results, while outrage over the Russian bombing of a maternity hospital in southeastern Ukraine grows. Separately, Russia is proposing humanitarian corridors for civilians to leave major cities, including Kyiv. But those promises have lately been followed by air and artillery strikes.

    Meantime, Ukrainian officials estimate that, in just two weeks of war, $100 billion of damage has been inflicted on the nation. On the economic front in Russia, more companies suspended operations with the country, and European Union leaders agreed to phase out purchases of Russian oil, coal, and gas, this as China, which has quietly supported Russia, said that it would abide by sanctions against Russia that prohibit sales of airplane parts.

    But again tonight, we begin with the human toll.

    Nick Schifrin reports from Ukraine.

  • And a warning:

    Some of the images in this story may be disturbing.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    All that's left of Mariupol is the shell of a city. Nine days of bombardment have left universities, homes reduced to debris and dust.

    It is a campaign designed to break people's spirit. And, today, they are terrified of how it could get even worse. There are some rescues, but others remain trapped, life in this city is now all but extinguished.

    Aleksander Ivanov, Resident of Mariupol (through translator): I don't have a home anymore. That's why I'm moving. Why else would I be walking?

  • Nick Schifrin:

    The cameraman asks, where was his home?

  • Aleksander Ivanov (through translator):

    It doesn't exist anymore. It was hit by a mortar.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Aleksander Ivanov heads off, with nowhere to go.

    And there is little dignity for the dead. An old cemetery becomes a mass grave. Morgues are already full; 1,200 people have been killed in this city in nine days. For exhausted gravediggers, the work is endless. This is a city that increasingly belongs to the dead.

  • Volodymyr Bykovskyi, Social Services Worker (through translator):

    The only thing I want is for this to be finished. I don't know who's guilty, who's right, who started this. Damn them all, those people who started this. What do I feel? I have to live on.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    The 400,000 people still living in Mariupol remain trapped, without food, water, electricity. For the fifth straight day, buses arrived empty to evacuate people through a humanitarian corridor. And for the fifth straight day, they left empty, because of Russian shelling.

    Following the highest level diplomatic meeting since the invasion, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov warned, the offensive in Mariupol would continue until Ukraine surrendered, which Kyiv has no intention of doing.

  • Petro Kotin, Acting President, Energoatom:

    Everybody hates them and wishes them to go to hell as soon as possible.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Petro Kotin is the acting president of the state nuclear authority, Energoatom. He says the Russian troops who took over the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant last week are using it as a shield.

  • Petro Kotin:

    Nobody will shell on them while they're on territory of nuclear power plant, so they're protected.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Plant workers took photos of the aftermath of a fight and of a Russian military vehicle parked outside. During the attack, Zaporizhzhia officials pleaded with the Russians to stop. Today, the staff is taking orders from a Russian military commander who knows nothing about nuclear power.

  • Petro Kotin:

    They are absolutely terrorizing our staff. The occupiers say, you can leave whenever you want. But without replacement, of course, nobody will leave, because personnel understands their responsibility.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Russian troops also control the Chernobyl nuclear zone, the site of the world's worst nuclear disaster. Today, it's disconnected from the electricity grid. Kotin says it must be restored within three weeks.

  • Petro Kotin:

    After that, the temperature will rise, because there is no coolant. And, finally, it will go to very high levels. And, after that, the radiation, actually, release of radioactivity could happen.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    And so you're calling for a corridor, a humanitarian corridor, to allow workers into Chernobyl, right?

  • Petro Kotin:

    There were cases that, when they actually agreed to give this corridor, and after personnel came there just for maintenance, they're just trying to kill this person also.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    A senior U.S. defense official said today, Russian troops near Kyiv, after days of not moving, are advancing toward the city. Russia continues to control territory in the north, northeast and south, surrounds five cities, and is increasing its assault on the port city of Mykolaiv.

    Kyiv says the only way to stop Russia is a no-fly zone. But, in Poland, the U.S. continues to block a fighter jet transfer to Ukraine. Today, Vice President Kamala Harris and Polish President Andrzej Duda tried to show unity, and Harris joined growing calls for an investigation into Russian war crimes.

    Kamala Harris, Vice President of the United States: We have been witnessing for weeks and certainly just in the last 24 hours atrocities of unimaginable proportion.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    The bombardment has led to an exodus, especially from the capital, Kyiv, once a thriving metropolis, now a capital deserted.

    The mayor said today, nearly two million, half the city, has fled. Aid for the displaced has arrived from all over the world through this hub in Lviv, trucks full of donations and an army of volunteers forming assembly lines since three hours after the first missile struck.

    Every donation they receive, every box they transfer, they believe, contributes to victory. This used to be an arts center, and this stage is full of people who, in their time, play many parts.

  • Yuri Popivich, Kyiv Volunteer:

    Here, we have different type of food.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Like 39-year-old Yuri Popivich, who gave me a tour.

  • Yuri Popivich:

    I don't think I would be able to take a gun and shoot. So, I thought that I will find a place or some service where I can be helpful with my experience, with my skills, and things like that.

    For me, I decided that this is going to be my fight, because I can do this.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Popivich grew up wanting to become a Greek Catholic priest. That's him on the left in seminary in Italy. Back in Ukraine, he worked in tourism, publishing, and started a software development company.

  • Yuri Popivich:

    This is all the medicine.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Today, he works 16 hours a day here in the basement, a fully stocked pharmacy created in two weeks.

  • Yuri Popivich:

    What we do need a lot, wartime medicines. So, we get a lot of requests to supply our militaries with a different type of medicine.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    This looks like an auditorium?

  • Yuri Popivich:

    Yes, it is.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Upstairs, a room full of donated clothes.

    Who's financing all of this?

  • Yuri Popivich:

    No one. This is completely done by volunteers and with volunteers.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    And downstairs, food destined to besieged Ukrainians around the country.

  • Yuri Popivich:

    These are for soldiers who are actually fighting.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    In each handmade pack created for front-line troops, a children's letter.

  • Yuri Popivich:

    And this one specifically represents Ukrainian army. "Go ahead, win. Glory to Ukraine." And the sun is smiling. So, there is a hope.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Children still hopeful, but expressing sentiments of war.

  • Yuri Popivich:

    When I think about all the lives, all the scars on people's lives and people's souls, it's really breaking — heartbreaking.

    We want peace in our country. We don't want our children to make war drawings. We want them to play soccer. We want them to run around on the grass.

    Yes, sorry. I get really — very upset when I speak about this, because, why? What did we do? What — how did we deserve?

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Like so many Ukrainians asking, what did they do to deserve this?

    In Mariupol today, a resident put it this way: There is no way to get any humanitarian aid into the city, and there is no way to get any residents out of the city.

    Zelenskyy said today that Russian troops shelled the very building where residents in Mariupol were supposed to gather in order to evacuate. And the fear is that those conditions could be repeated around the country soon.

    Judy, tonight, the mayor of Chernihiv, near the Belarus border, warned that they had so many fatalities, that city too was running out of burial space.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So distressing.

    So, Nick, you showed how the humanitarian corridor there in Mariupol had failed. What do you know, what is known about cease-fires in other cities around the country?

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Tonight, Zelenskyy said that Russians had held fire long enough in seven cities over the last couple of days, so that 100,000 people could evacuate from those cities in the last 48 hours.

    Now, that is much higher than it was just a couple of days ago. But just, again, to give some perspective, there are hundreds of thousands of people trapped in Mariupol alone. There are hundreds of thousands of people trapped in other cities by Russian forces. And these people are trapped in dire conditions. They don't even have the basics in which they can live.

    Zelenskyy told VICE News last night that dialogue with Putin directly is the only way to end the war. But senior U.S. officials I talk to don't see an off-ramp right now to this war. French President Emmanuel Macron said today that he does not see any diplomatic solution to the war.

    So the fear is, Judy, that soon there will be more days like today.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Just incredibly discouraging.

    Nick Schifrin reporting for us from Ukraine.

    Thank you, Nick.

Listen to this Segment