Russian forces expand their offensive into western Ukraine as battle for Kyiv intensifies

Russian forces attacked western Ukraine for the first time, launching strikes on airfields, and thus widening the two-and-a-half-week war. Russia also hit a major industrial city in the east, as it continued its brutal campaign, while U.S. officials said Russia is making incremental advances toward Kyiv. NewsHour's foreign affairs correspondent Nick Schifrin reports from the western city of Lviv.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Russian forces today attacked Western Ukraine for the first time, launching strikes on airfields, and thus widening the 2.5-week war.

    Russia also hit a major industrial city in the east, Dnipro, as it continued its brutal military campaign. Also today, President Biden and other leaders of the so-called G7 nations revoked Russia's most-favored nation trade status, which will allow for higher tariffs on Russian exports.

    And U.S. officials said today that the large Russian military convoy near Kyiv had dispersed, as the Russians made incremental advances on the city.

    But we again begin our coverage tonight from the Western city of Lviv, with our foreign affairs correspondent, Nick Schifrin.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    In a city that until now had been spared, a residential block, reduced to rubble, fires still burning where homes once stood, where families once lived, civilians left for dead just a few feet from their front doors.

    It is day 16, and, for the first time, Russia bombed the industrial hub, Dnipro.

  • Valentyn Yermolenko, Press Officer, Ukrainian Armed Forces (through translator):

    I have only one observation here. This is a continuation of fighting by terrorist methods.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Also for the first time, Russian missiles struck military airfields in Western Ukraine. Residents near the Polish border filmed massive explosions.

    It's an expansion of the war, perhaps to disrupt supplies arriving into what had been Ukraine's quiet west. In the east, in Kharkiv, the Russians once again targeted a hospital. More than 30 have been attacked; 5,000 miles away, Russia's ambassador accused the U.S. of — quote — "biological activities" in Ukraine.

    U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield accused the Russian pot of calling the kettle black.

    Linda Thomas-Greenfield, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations: Russia has a track record of falsely accusing other countries of the very violations that Russia itself is perpetrating.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Those violations include indiscriminate shelling of residential buildings, these today just outside Kyiv.

    The Russian military claimed in new video troops outside the capital were advancing. Satellite images show the 40-mile convoy that sat north of the capital now dispersed to prevent Ukrainian attacks. And a senior U.S. defense official said Russian soldiers made — quote — "additional advancements" toward Kyiv from the northwest and east.

    (GUNFIRE)

  • Nick Schifrin:

    The battle for Kyiv is intensifying. Soldiers in a suburb are pinned down by a Russian barrage. They make a run for it, before opening up.

    (GUNFIRE)

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Ukrainian soldiers are defending their land and, in quieter moments, say they're motivated by revenge for this war's most heinous attacks. This soldier calls himself devil.

  • “Devil”, Ukrainian Soldier (through translator):

    We will kill all the (EXPLETIVE DELETED) for Mariupol. We will multiply them by zero.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    How's your leg?

  • Capt. Yan Fidrya, Ukrainian Army:

    Could be better.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Yan Fidrya is a captain in the Ukrainian military. He was injured last week in the battle for Gostomel. He filmed the aftermath.

  • Capt. Yan Fidrya:

    I knew that I can die in that moment, but I did everything they could. The Russians, they lost the whole company, including the vehicles.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    And why do you think you had that success?

  • Capt. Yan Fidrya:

    We were more motivated than them. Like, they were thinking they're just like on a business trip to Ukraine.

    Those woods in front of us, they're shooting at us from there.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    We first met then-Lieutenant Fidrya in 2016, when he was deployed to the front line in Eastern Ukraine, faced off against Russian-backed separatists.

  • Capt. Yan Fidrya:

    This is not a civil war. This is like a war between Ukraine and Russia. It's my country. I'm defending my country.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    You were proud that you had been trained with American and with NATO techniques. Do you think that that has made a difference?

  • Capt. Yan Fidrya:

    It's modern warfare. It's not like Soviet tactics. To my brothers, that are at battle right now (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE).

  • Nick Schifrin:

    What does that mean?

  • Capt. Yan Fidrya:

    Fight, my brothers, and we will win. My real brother right now, he's…

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Where is he?

  • Capt. Yan Fidrya:

    Somewhere round Kyiv. He's in the (INAUDIBLE) group. So I don't ask him — when he goes, me, I just ask, are you OK? He says — he says he's OK.

    That — like, hard. Like, I was worried about my brother. He will be fine.

    Give me a second.

  • Andriy Zelenskyy, Chief Chaplain, Greek Catholic Church:

    When you invade peaceful country, peaceful cities, you're not defending life. You're killing life. You're not defending humanity. You're destroying the things that are most human.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Andriy Zelinskyy is the Greek Catholic Church's chief chaplain. He has seen more war than most soldiers. He spent three years on the front lines in Eastern Ukraine, where he blessed and lost dozens of friends in battle.

  • Andriy Zelenskyy:

    When you have friends, when you have close people around you, when they leave, they take a part of you with them. And when many of them begin to leave, so there appears a certain void in you, a certain emptiness.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Above us, doves for soldiers killed since 2014. It's called the St. Peter and Paul Garrison Church. It celebrates the thousands of Ukrainian soldiers who have died since Russia's initial invasion.

  • Andriy Zelenskyy:

    War is chaos. It's also a dimension where human beings live, which means they have their dreams. There are examples where people get married in the battlefield. They have their hopes for the future.

    The mission of a military chaplain is to preserve humanity. And this is not an abstract thing. It's realized in our capacity to choose good, in our capacity to seek truth, and in our human capacity to contemplate beauty.

    A person who was accompanying me in one of the hottest parts of Donbass in 2016, actually, I baptized him years before. We used to stop and to contemplate either the sunset or the sunrise. Later on, he became a hero of Ukraine, and sad, because he was killed last week.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    In 2016, Valeriy Chybineyev won the Order of the Gold Star, Ukraine's highest military honor. He died last week in the same battle for Gostomel where Captain Fidrya fought.

    This week, the church held funerals for five soldiers killed in the current invasion.

    And what do you say to the families of the soldiers who've been killed in the last two weeks?

  • Andriy Zelenskyy:

    Hope. Hope that everything was not in vain, that freedom and dignity are not mere words. These are cornerstones of our Ukrainian destiny.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    And do you think the scars that you were just describing will heal?

  • Andriy Zelenskyy:

    The scars require time. Nothing heals itself. My life is in my hands, and my country is there as well. So, our scars are in our hands as well. We can treat them. You can heal your scars, but you can heal the scars of your neighbor, and he can heal your scars, because only humanity can afford this gift of healing somebody else's wounds.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Father Zelinskyy says his job is to — quote — "lean heaven" toward the soldiers.

    And to do that, he has to help them maintain their humanity, as we just heard him talking about, in the chaos of war.

    But maintaining humanity also requires experiencing pain. The U.S. estimates 2,000 to 4,000 Ukrainian soldiers and National Guardsmen have been killed in just two weeks of war. and Father Zelinskyy says he expects to lose more friends and that the only way for Ukraine to stay resilient, Judy, is to maintain its humanity.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Oh, it just breaks your heart. And you have to have enormous admiration for these individuals.

    Nick, one other question, and that is, aside from the attacks the Russians are now making in — more attacks in Kyiv and in the west, where else are they making progress right now?

  • Nick Schifrin:

    The progress is mostly in the south, Judy, and the progress is expanding.

    And let's take a look at Mariupol that we have talked about so much. City officials said tonight more than 1,500 people have been killed there. But the shelling is so strong, they don't actually are able to get onto the streets and count how many dead.

    And, remember, this is a city that for one week has had no food, no water and no power. A city official said today that — quote — "Humanity has not yet invented a word for what Russia is doing to us."

    Over to the west in Mykolaiv — that is a strategic port city — tonight, the Russian forces opened fire, after a few days of quiet. They have been trying to seize that city for weeks. It is strategic because it is the last urban area that Russia needs to seize before they can reach Odessa.

    But Ukrainian forces have put up stiff resistance and have held that Russian offensive on the city off for a couple of weeks. And, Judy, for two weeks now, we have seen, of course, so much fear among Ukrainians who are fleeing the Russian fighting. But we have also seen fearlessness, including among the Ukrainian soldiers defending these cities and the people who support them.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Nick Schifrin.

    And we have to thank you, Nick, for day after day of extraordinary reporting in Ukraine. Thank you

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