Russian tanks move closer to Ukraine border

While Ukraine has called for a ceasefire, Russia has extended military exercises in Belarus as tensions over a possible war remain high. U.S. intelligence and NATO countries say 150,000 Russian troops are stationed along Ukraine’s border. NPR’s Frank Langfitt joins from Kyiv to discuss the mood in Ukraine’s capital.

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  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    In Ukraine's capital Kyiv, ceremonies today marked the eighth anniversary of deadly protests that led to the end of the country's former pro-Russian government.

    NPR correspondent Frank Langfitt is in Kyiv and he joined us earlier this afternoon from Independence Square for more on the situation in Ukraine and concerns about Russia's military preparations.

    Frank, a lot of us have been watching videos of tanks moving closer to the border with Ukraine. What are the people that you're speaking to today, what are they thinking about this?

  • Frank Langfitt:

    Yeah, I'm here today, Hari, at a memorial service, actually for people who died eight years ago who were actually fighting, being pulled closer to Russia by the government at the time. And I'm noticing a change in conversation and people seem a lot more worried today than they did just two days ago. And you know, a lot of people say they don't see the possibility of war. They can't imagine a big invasion. But more and more people I'm speaking to today were telling me very soberly we think there will be war and that's a change from the way people have been speaking earlier in the week.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    So in practical terms, what are these people do in terms of preparation? Are they trying to leave the country or go someplace else?

  • Frank Langfitt:

    I talked to one woman today who said, you know, she came here a lot, she used to bring her child here. She has a four year old boy. She would bring her here to this memorial every year to teach about the history of Ukraine and its sense of independence. And she said, my son is now with my husband is Lviv, which is in the far west of Ukraine. So they've evacuated. And she's here on her own, still working, she's a journalist. And other people though, I've got to tell you, it's not like people are running away. I think the same sort of little grocery store across the street from my hotel and they are still, you know, all the food is still stocked there. But I do sense a change in the mood as this is going on and on. And certainly, as we've heard from the United States, President Biden, what he thinks is going to happen.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    What is the view of the people on the street that you're speaking with, at least in one city about the United States and the role that NATO in the United States can play in this?

  • Frank Langfitt:

    Yeah, I've heard sort of two different things today Hari, one woman said I want to thank the United States for providing weapons and providing support. At the same time, I've heard people say, wouldn't it be nice to be in NATO now so that we wouldn't be threatened by Russia? People here are sophisticated. They understand that Ukraine does not meet the membership standards for NATO and partly because of corruption, things like that and probably won't for quite a long time. But there is some frustration. This is a democratic country. It's a flawed democracy, but a vibrant city, Kyiv is a very vibrant city with a great sense of civil society and it's a frustration. I think here that they can't be more a part of Europe, which is what the majority of people here would want. They feel much closer to Europe, frankly, than they do to Moscow and their years as a former part of the Soviet Union.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Frank, one of the concerns that people have had is that there could be enough disturbance inside of Ukraine, that that could give Russia the sort of pretext for an invasion.

  • Frank Langfitt:

    Yeah, that's what many people think. In fact, I think the approach here is, here in Kyiv, is they tell Westerners, particularly journalists, to look very closely for some kind of false flag operations. We've seen out in the Donbass an attack on a natural gas line and accusations of shelling from the Ukrainian side. The Ukrainian military is saying that they're telling their soldiers not to fire back, to not provoke the Russians to find a pretext. At the moment, there is not any pretext for invasion. But many people think that at some point the Russians will come up with something that they will say that they can use to justify to come in here. That's the great fear.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    NPR's Frank Langfitt joining us from Kyiv tonight. Thanks so much.

  • Frank Langfitt:

    Good to talk, Hari.

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